How to Buy and Sell at Farmers' Markets

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You can't find fresher food unless you grow it yourself. Farmers' markets are a fabulous place to hunt down fresh produce, artisan breads and cheeses, nuts, oils and preserves. Plus, you're supporting small farms. For a nationwide directory of farmers' markets, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture (www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets).

Go to the market and browse the stalls. You'll want to find out the prices and stock of any direct competitors.

Inquire with the executive director or market manager about setting up a stand. Some markets require potential sellers to fill out an application and purchase a permanent space; others rent stalls for a nominal week-to-week fee, usually $5 to $15.

Ask about the market's traffic to determine how much merchandise to bring. You can also query experienced vendors and the market manager to get their recommendation on how much of your olallieberry jam you can expect to spread around.

Make your stall inviting with colorful tablecloths and umbrellas for shade. Only put out 10 to 12 of each type of produce in a way that shoppers can pick out the ones they want without toppling piles. Keep your supply cool to stay fresh.

Give out samples of your wares. Free food attracts a crowd; tasty food makes a sale.

Don't make a list for the farmers' market as you would for the grocery store. Instead, shop with your eyes and nose, smelling and squeezing produce to find the season's best. Taste samples to choose between offerings.

Make the full rounds of the market before you throw down any cash. Find out who has the best crop of tomatoes or the choicest summer melons.

Live on the edge and buy something you've never tried before. Ask the farmer how to prepare it; many will share recipes.

Don't succumb to temptation and overbuy. The reason to shop at a farmers' market is to get fresh, ripe food. If it hides in your refrigerator and goes bad, you might as well go to a supermarket.

Tips & Warnings

  • Bring lots of cash. Most sellers do not take checks or credit cards--or if they do, you may pay more for that just-picked flavor.
  • Bring a large bag to take produce home. These markets don't usually pack your goods in paper or plastic.

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