To market, to market

Growing up in York, Pennsylvania, my family shopped at farmers’ markets enclosed in permanent structures that were hundreds of years old and opened year round. I was surprised when I left home and found that most communities have open air markets that are more likely to be open in spring, summer and fall. In recent years, there has been an explosion of open air, farmers’ markets because they are fun and people enjoy buying locally produced foods.

Following are tips to help you to get the most from the farmers’ market experience.

Before you go

  • Although many stands will accept credit cards, you probably want to take cash with you made up in small bills so you can give exact change and complete transactions quickly and easily.
  • Although I have the family market basket that is 150 years old, reusable bags, insulated bags, and coolers with ice packs will service you well. Many stands keep a few plastic bags for those of us who forget or buy more than planned. Select good, sturdy bags with handles that can hold heavier items and can be easily cleaned.
  • Have a rough idea what meals you will be serving in the near future. You do not want to overbuy produce and have items spoil before you can use it. You may also want to have flexibility in your menu for the “new” item you want to try.

What’s in season?

Penn State Extension’s Pennsylvania Produce Guide ( is available for download or you can order a copy from your local extension office. The handy reference tells you the normal availability of produce, what to look for in selection as well as what to avoid, storage tips and suggested use.

  • Dress for the weather and pick the correct shoes for walking.
  • Bring a wagon or cart to help you transport your purchases home or to the car.

When you arrive

  • Not unlike grocery stores, the time of day you arrive may affect your selection. Arriving when the market first opens allows you the best selection of produce. Waiting until the last hour may allow you to buy items at discounted prices.
  • If it’s a new market, you may want to survey all the stands before making selections. Repeat customers may have their favorite stands and are willing to buy right away.
  • You may want to buy the heavier items (think watermelon or squash) last.
  • Talk to the people working the stands. They often have a wealth of information related to the produce being sold. Usually, they enjoy talking to their customers and freely offer tips on recipes and produce preparation. They can also answer questions related to how the food was produced.
  • If you are buying surplus produce, check out our series, “Let’s Preserve Fact Sheets,” for information related to food preservation.
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Beth Van Horn can be reached by calling the Penn State Cooperative Extension – Mifflin County office at 248-9618 or by email at Visit Penn State Cooperative Extension – Mifflin County’s web page at trade names appear, no discrimination is intended, and no endorsement by Penn State Cooperative Extension is implied.