Farmers markets have been snubbed as gathering grounds for environmentally-aware, Prius-driving, urban couples looking for a way to abate the guilt of not always recycling their Starbucks sleeve by “buying local.”
This fact was cemented when Geico made a commercial about it, so sure were they that everyone would understand, if not chuckle at, the sheer ridiculousness of the situation.
While the stereotype might hit a little too close to home for some readers and seem incredibly preposterous to others, the allure of the farmers market is undeniable, even for college students.
But why go to a farmers market when Whole Foods is just a few blocks from campus and Jewel-Osco is only a short bribed-off-a-roommate car ride away? Well, the reason people, even students, choose the market over stores is simple:
The Variety. A farmers market offers ample opportunity to switch it up! Not only do some vendors carry over a dozen types of apples, tomatoes, or kale (yes, really), but there is a whole assortment of vendors there too. If the lettuce at one booth looks like it has seen better days, head on over to the next one and get something better.
What’s In Season
Apples. Autumn equals apples and farmers markets are brimming with any variety of this fruit that can be used for baking or snacking. The freshly pressed cider is a delicious, liquid variation. (Click here to learn how to make homemade applesauce)
Lettuce. Unlike many vegetables, lettuce thrives in cooler weather and can grow well into the month of November if taken care of. Look for artisan blends, spinach, arugula (technically an herb, but it grows like a weed), and many varieties of kale to give salads some sass.
Squash. There are so, so many types of squash and a farmers market is the perfect place for those afraid of commitment. Many squashes cost mere fractions of what they do in stores and are small enough so that buying a few different ones to figure out a favorite won’t break the bank. (Click here and here for squash recipes)
Mushrooms. Perfect for vegetarians and meat lovers, mushrooms can bulk up a variety of dishes, including tummy warming soups and stews. Ask a vendor for recommendations and recipe ideas to get the most fun out of this fungus.
The Prices. Yes, at times, buying from a farmers market can be more expensive (organic, small farm produce doesn’t typically afford for coupons and sales), but these shopping smart tips can actually save you money in the long run.
- First, get a lay of the land. Do an initial lap around the market, checking what vendors have and what the prices are. Most prices hover around the same amount, but saving a dollar here and there can really add up.
- Take advantage of deals. A lot of vendors are willing to lump items together or do 2-for-1 deals.
- Think it’ll be too much food? Take a friend! Split the cost and the items to save even more without wasting food.
- Low on cash but high on confidence? Haggle! Yes, haggle. The prices at the market aren’t set by money hungry head honchos at a corporation, so they aren’t set in stone. Think that basket of apples is only worth $5 instead of $6? Then speak up! The worst a vendor can say is no, but there are plenty of other vendors to take business to.
It’s More Than Just Vegetables. While a huge draw is the fresh produce, markets and vendors have so much more to offer the eager buyer. Crafts, artisan breads and baked goods, fresh pasta, meats, cheese, and even knife sharpening are just a few of the other goods and services a quality farmers market is rife with. Ignore that rule against shopping on an empty stomach and venture to a market feeling a little peckish. Vendors usually offer samples and are more than happy to oblige when asked.
The People. Try being angry at a farmers market, just try. It’s damn near impossible. People there are just so nice. The vendors are pleasant and just want to talk to people about what they know and love, indulge them and just feel the warmth start to well up from deep inside. Without the added stress of making sure coupons are in order or weaving in and out of cramped aisles playing a taciturn version of bumper carts, the other shoppers are polite and pleasant, some even bordering on helpful.
It may take some time, and a little trial and error, but there are so many delicious advantages to going to a farmers market this season it’d be silly to pass them up. Grab a coffee, save room for a freshly baked scone, and take along some reusable shopping bags for a shopping trip that will feed both the body and soul.
The Evanston Farmers Market is every Saturday from 7:30a.m. – 1:30p.m. but it’s not the only one accessible to students. Time Out Chicago put together a guide to help navigate the dozens of markets offered throughout the city.