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5 Insider Tips for Saving at the Farmers Market

(Or, How to Avoid Heirloom Tomato Bankruptcy)

I have a thing for farmers market tomatoes. Specifically, the way they smell: an inexplicable, powdery, herbal aroma that makes you think of tomato vines and leaves, and promises explosive flavor in the fruit. I am so addicted to the siren song of real summer tomatoes that when I go to the farmers market, my wallet starts to whimper.

But no more. I’ve worked out a few frugal strategies and asked farmers for insider tips on how to get more food for less money. They just might work at your farmers market, too!

Tip #1: Buy Ugly and Uber Ripe

101991763 Heirloom Tomatoes Photo by Meredith rotated and resized

Photo by Meredith

Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. When I spy those odd, sculptural veggies, I see a bargain. Another reason fruits and vegetables get discounted is they have some kind of imperfection, like a bruise on a peach or a tomato that is really, really ripe. At my farmers market in Seattle, bargain bins are either behind the main table or under it. Don’t see them? Feel free to ask nicely, says Jay Zimmerman of Lyall Farms, “We would rather have these cherries in someone’s tummy than rotting in a cooler.”

Heirloom Tomato Salad With Rosemary

Try out your ugly beauties in this fresh, colorful salad - which you can also grill!

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Rosemary. Photo by MrsFisher0729

Photo by MrsFisher0729

Related: Why Eating Ugly Food is a Beautiful Thing

Tip #2: Buy Big Food

Produce grown at local farms is not uniform “supermarket” size, and vendors often sell by the piece rather than by the pound. I recently nabbed a ginormous heirloom red romaine for $2.50 and ate yummy salads for a week. Later in the season, I buy one giant zucchini for a buck, marry it with my ugly tomatoes and make ratatouille.


Summer's tastiest vegetables converge in this classic casserole.

Tip #3: Buy in Bulk

“Right now, strawberries are super cheap,” says Sam Traylor of Hayton Farms as he holds up a box overflowing with six pints of plump, organic, heritage berries he’s selling for $15. Because crops come to market in a seasonal flush, buying a lot of whatever is bounteous will often get you a discount. Take a friend to split the bounty. If you can't do that, plan on a bit more work when you get home, freezing, pickling, or making jam. In a few months when all the farms are sleeping, you’ll be glad you preserved a taste of summer.

Frozen fruit ices. Photo by Meredith

Freeze some of that bounty into colorful ice cubes. Photo by Meredith

Related: How to Keep Berries From Getting Moldy and Gross

Tip #4: Go Late

All these tips converge in the 11th hour, when the market is about to close. Farmers would rather sell to you than slog it home. It’s also a good time to shop for seconds, because more produce is demoted to the discount bin as the day goes on. Here’s how Xiong Cha, a flower grower of lush artistic bouquets puts it, “Starting in mid-July into August, I do a discount. Especially at the end of the day, I’ll do a discount on this for you,” he says, holding up a tantalizing bouquet overflowing with color, artistry, and value. If only I could eat it.

Farmers market

Photo by Meredith

Tip #5: Shop in Terrible Weather

Everyone wants to mill about the market on a perfect summer day. But if you're willing to make the trek when it's pouring (or 100 degrees), you're likely to have fewer crowds to contend with. The smaller the crowds, the more likely you are to score discounts from farmers who'd rather deal than haul it all home.

Related: How to Host a Super-Fresh Farmers Market Brunch

More insider tips, how-to's, and cooking inspiration is over here on Allrecipes Dish.



Free-range journalist who hunts and pecks for delicious adventures, braggable bargains, and transcendent Sauvignon Blanc. Will write for cheese.