I grew up in what was then a small suburb of Los Angeles. Citrus orchards and onion fields dotted the landscape. Lombardi's Ranch down the canyon provided fresh pumpkins at Halloween. My dad's garden provided most of the vegetables we ate every day.
Not everyone has a green-thumbed relative — or a penchant for zucchini en masse — so how does one find great deals on in-season produce?
While we didn't have a huge variety — hello, zucchini, my old nemesis — we were blessed with a lot of in-season produce, with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and radishes rounding out the selection. Transplanted Minnesota boy that he is, my dad even took out the back lawn and planted 20 rolls of sweet corn! Today his lemon tree continues to produce hundreds of Meyer lemons every year.
Needless to say, fresh produce straight from the backyard garden was a normal thing for me. As long as I live within a day's drive of my dad, I've got all the free lemons, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini (unfortunately) that I could want.
The following are sources that may provide you with great fruits and veggies all summer long. Opportunities differ by community, so be sure to ask around and see what's good in your neighborhood.
1. Try (try!) the farmers market
Now, the farmers market near my home does not really offer great deals on produce. The market's stated mission is to provide an opportunity for farmers to reach the public, but does not promise great prices.
In other communities where I've lived, the farmers market was the place to get great deals on fresh, local, in-season produce. Check out your options and see what your local market has to offer. It can be a great source of fresh-from-the-farm produce.
2. Join a CSA or produce co-op.
We've had several years' experience with an organic produce co-op. Every week they delivered a box of farm-fresh veggies to the door. I learned a ton about different growing seasons, when I could expect a massive amount of persimmons, and when we'd be overrun by peaches.
With a CSA box you don't often get to choose what comes in the box, but you do get a load of fresh, in-season produce. Often this is a great way to save money on organic produce.
3. Hunt down a farm stand.
A local farmer or cooperative may host a roadside farmstand in your community. If this is the case, get to know them and their selection. Often when you're talking directly with the grower, you can find out what the best deals are and how to get them. It just may be that they're willing to throw in a few extras when they realize you're a loyal customer.
4. Visit a U-Pick fruit or vegetable farm.
Our kids had the best time picking strawberries this spring. We had an even better time eating all the fresh berries. Visit PickYourOwn for a database of all the farms were you can pick the produce yourself.
Not only is picking a fun experience, but it can also be a great opportunity to nab a good deal.
5. Grow a backyard garden
This year we're attempting a small raised-bed garden. For about $35, we've got peas, lettuce, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers in the works.
While it might not reap a huge harvest, the small investment of time and attention will hopefully offset our grocery bill and allow us fresh vegetables just steps from the kitchen. (And herbs are the ultimate saver — cheap to plant, grow like weeds, no more $3 packets of thyme.)
6. Know the secrets of your local grocery store.
I actually find the best deals on purchased produce at the grocery store. My local Sprouts often features amazing prices, like melons and blueberries for 88 cents! The quality is typically amazing and we get a huge variety to choose from. And don't forget: if there's something you want in larger quantities, just ask for a discount or case price.
More on case discounts and other ways to save: 6 Unexpected Ways to Make Your Grocery Work for You
While doctors and nutritionists disagree on a host of issues, they all agree that we should eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Getting a great deal on in-season produce is a prime way to help your diet as well as your budget.
I'd love to know what works for you and where you find the best prices on fresh produce.