Under $100 Farmers Market Haul

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I absolutely adore the farmers market. Especially the one in PSU in downtown Portland in the summertime. Nothing beats waking up early and heading over before the rush and grabbing everything I could possibly want for the week, while chatting to the lovely stall owners about their produce, their recipes and their farms. I've been going to these markets for the last two years since moving to Portland but this summer especially. Since going waste free, it's hard to find certain fruit + veg not packaged in plastic, so I've opted to do MOST of our weekly grocery shopping there, usually topping up on my bulk + soft fruits (like stonefruit and bananas) at the co-op mid-week. 

The first time I ever went to the farmers market, I was SHOCKED at how expensive I thought it all was. Certain things can cost way more than they do at your local organic grocery store, and although you're buying directly from your farmer, it's important to make your market trip affordable and sustainable, otherwise it might burn you out financially and emotionally. Here are my top tips on how to stay under $100 for a weeks worth of produce + more for two people (which on the west coast, is incredibly affordable for a (mostly) vegan + low waste household of hungry entrepreneurs).

Pre-plan what you want to buy: It's so easy to get caught up on what looks good at the market and what you want to devour on the trip home. Every time I head to the market, I try and plan out what I'm going to cook for the week and have an idea of what produce I need that I can pretty much only get at the market, not in plastic, and what we're not growing in the garden. Each week, I stay with the basics; a few root vegetables, a single head of lettuce, an onion + garlic, one kind of fruit for snacks or salads, fresh pasta, fresh bread, and local pasteurised eggs for David, and then I let the rest of my budget allow for whatever I want.

Buy what's in season: This might seem like an obvious one, but keep an eye on what's actually growing in your region at that time. Some farm stalls still bring in produce from other farms in other areas, and that can bring the cost way up. For example, stone fruit was being sold in our farmers markets in early June, which I knew was probably because the fruit was being brought up from California; Oregon's stone fruit isn't generally ready to harvest until late July/August. The price of peaches went significantly down as soon as August rolled around, and I know that the peaches were definitely local. Speak to the stall holders about what's in excess at that time. Zucchini has been SO cheap at the market lately, and I've bought 3 GIANT ones for just a dollar each (and they last a long time in the fridge if stored correctly. Things in season will almost always cost a little less than anything that might be at the end of it's season. Buy what is in excess across all stores and consider freezing anything you can't really get later on in the year (like berries) while they're in season.

Find the vendors you love: Creating relationships with the stores and vendors you love at your local market can lead to many great things; I usually go to the same vendors every week and they know me and what I purchase now. When buying squash flowers last week, the store owner told me how to cook them based on what I had told him about my previous meal, and he gave me some fantastic tips. Another vendor knows every week that I purchase fresh pasta from him and has one aside for me. I've also found which vendors have the best price on things like heirloom tomatoes and zucchini's and a few dollars a pound can really add up. My best strategy for this is to do a full lap on the market when I arrive and select which vendors I want to pop in and purchase from. I let no stall go overseen, sometimes the most unassuming have the best little secrets (like those giant zucchinis). Not everyone is there part of a farm directly trying to make money from their produce, I purchase often from an older man who just has too much produce in his garden and sells it there to make sure it doesn't go to waste.

Budget with cash: Each Saturday morning I get out my cash from the ATM before heading over, trying to carry smaller cash with me if possible for the convenience of the farmers, and that's all I can spend. It allows me to decide what is important and essential (again, that $24 box of berries might sound nice now but they won't last the trip home with the way I snack). Having cash physiologically gives you a specific limit on what you can purchase and forces you to be more intentional than just waving your debit card around. It's always good for the farmers to have cash too, as it makes transactions easier for them and costs them much less. I can honestly get most of my produce weekly for $60 but on a bigger week when the fridge is extra empty, I'll spend roughly $80-90.

Choose versatility: It's great to know what produce you can use for everything: potato, zucchini, squash, tomato, cauliflower, and anything alike, will rarely ever be wasted because you can do so much with it. Choose produce that you can use for breakfasts, dinners, snacks, and everything in between: you'll get the most use out of the products and you won't have to worry about anything spoiling before you've gotten a chance to use it. Storing it correctly when you get home will also extend it's life, if something isn't refrigerated in the farmers market it likely doesn't need to be refrigerated when you take it home (unless you don't have A/C and your house gets quite heated). Our potatoes last for weeks, tomatoes can be used for toasts or sauces or salads, and you can just about cook cauliflower in any possible way, I always have some in the fridge.

How to stay low waste at the market: Everything you can see in this picture was purchased at the market, and most vendors are very accomodating to wrapping my bread in the beeswax I provide, or letting me use my own bags. I try and return my egg cartons and berry cartons to the farmers the following week after purchasing, or reusing the cartons to put other produce in rather than using a paper bag, I take my basket and generally just add everything into the basket as is without bagging it. Things like peas, beans, limes, etc are great to put directly into your cloth bags (I've made mine that you can see in this picture). Most vendors are also happy to put things into my glass jars, unless something is already in plastic, I'll ask for them to put the same weight if possible within my jars. The only thing I intentionally buy in plastic is the fresh pasta, although I'm sure the man I purchase this from would happily consider putting my pasta into an air-tight container I provided him with each week (swapping one full one out for another empty each time I went). The most important thing about striving for a waste free lifestyle is allowing yourself to make mistakes and understand how difficult this lifestyle can generally be and just move on from anything you know you can't avoid. I'd much prefer to buy pasta in plastic to keep it fresh from someone locally who makes it, than purchase it from a store where it's mass produced. 

I'd love to hear about your farmers market tips + experiences! Feel free to comment below.