3 Ways to Save Money at the Farmers Market, According to a Former Vendor Manager

updated May 13, 2021
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Credit: Christine Han

Shopping at a farmers market is the very best way to eat the foods that are currently growing in your region. When you hear the phrase “shop local,” this is it, people. When you purchase goods directly from a farmer, you’re buying food that is in season, helping to keep your money in the local economy, and supporting small business owners. Now that’s what I like to call a triple threat.

Depending on where you’re used to shopping and what you typically buy, these prices can seem higher than what you’d pay at the grocery store. In actuality, the price of food at farmers markets is a close indication of the true cost of producing food that doesn’t involve middlemen, distribution centers, or transport emissions from one continent to another. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to save.

I used to manage famers markets — a few different-sized ones in various cities — and after all those years, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Here are my top three tips for saving money at the farmers market.

Credit: Christine Han

1. Scout out all nearby markets before actually shopping.

You may have a nearby farmers market that you visit each week, but if you live in an area where there are others in neighboring cities and towns, you might want to venture out for a visit — even if it’s just to compare prices. Many vendors sell at multiple markets per week and the prices often fluctuate (despite the fact that the produce is the same). 

Charging more or less money for the same items may seem surprising, but there are various factors at play. For one, all farmers and vendors must pay fees for their stall (it’s like paying rent) and the fee can vary based on market operators and location. Additionally, vendors know their clientele, are aware of what the market can offer, and know what other farmers are charging. They use this information to their advantage, like any savvy business person would.

Oftentimes you don’t have to drive very far to another market to see the same farm selling the same produce for less. Just like you might compare prices at different grocery stores, this method is a cost-effective way to save money at the farmers market.

2. Buy imperfect-looking produce.

We’ve been conditioned to think that fruits and vegetables must have a specific look, shape, color, and size, but as it turns out, nature is pretty flexible. Despite this, even when people shop at farmers markets, many still expect the produce to be picture-perfect.

In an effort to sell perfectly edible produce that may look a little wonky, some farmers will separate out the oddballs and sell them at a discounted price. You may find a box labeled “misshapen,” “ugly,” or “imperfect” (or something along those lines), filled with smaller, bigger, or oddly shaped produce. Sometimes the box will be prominently displayed, while other times farmers may keep it off to the side. If you don’t see a selection, don’t hesitate to ask and express interest!

3. Go 30 minutes before the market closes.

Farmers and vendors tend to discount some or all of the produce at the end of the day instead of hauling it back to the farm. That’s because farmers who don’t have a market to attend the following day or are selling delicate produce may prefer to sell it for a lower price than pack it back up. This tactic is your best chance at a farmers market bargain, although it’s important to note that you might miss out on a larger selection to choose from and have to slash a few items from your shopping list.

What’s your best tip for saving money at the farmers market?