Written by Jaz Popa

It’s the heart of the summer here in Michigan. That means it’s the perfect time to check out your local farmers markets! Farmer’s markers are a great place to shop for your produce. Shopping at farmers markets is an easy way to ensure your produce is in season, local, and delicious! You will be saving some cash by shopping locally and in season as well as supporting your local farmers and economy! Not to mention, the produce will be incredibly fresh, flavorful, and full of nutrients. However, shopping at farmers markets can be a little daunting at times. Here are some tips to help you best navigate your local, or any, farmers market! 

1. Locate your nearest market. 

  • There are plenty of farmers markets all throughout Michigan in the summertime.  Do a quick Google search to find your nearest market and their hours. Be sure that it works with your schedule since farmers market hours can sometimes be short! You can find the closest farmers markets to you and all their information here!

2. Know the season. 

  • Since farmers markets typically only have fresh, in season produce, the variety won’t be as vast as the grocery store and will vary based on the seasons. If you know what’s in season in your area during the time you plan on shopping, you can get an idea of what to expect. You can then plan your meals and shopping around that.  
  • Check out this chart to learn what’s in season in Michigan throughout the year: 
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Michigan Seasonality Chart – Photo by Michigan State University Extension
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Michigan Seasonality Chart – Photo by Michigan State University Extension

3. Learn what’s ripe. 

  • Sometimes it can be hard to identify if produce is ripe or not. Depending on what you’re doing with the produce and when you plan on cooking it, it can be important to know if the produce is ripe or not. Here are some common foods and what to look for: 
  • Yellow and Zucchini Squash: Bright shiny skin, firm at the stem, and free of scrapes and bruises; choose small to medium sized squash for best flavor 
  • Onions: Firm and hard 
  • Corn: Bright green leaves that are slightly damp and wrapped tightly against the cob, the corn tassel — the silky top — should be golden or slightly brown and sticky to the touch 
  • Tomatoes: Bright shiny skin, firm flesh with just a little give when pressed, heavy for its size, smells earthy and herbal 
  • Okra: Pods are firm with a fresh green stem 
  • Cucumber: Dark green in color with no yellowed spots, the cuke should be firm to the touch with no wrinkles or soft spots Salad Greens: Leaves should be unbroken and smell very fresh, with no sign of sliminess in the bag 
  • Root Vegetables: Root vegetable greens should be bright green and not overly wilted, the body should be firm and free of cuts or bruises 
  • Eggplant: Smooth shiny skin with green stem and leaves; the flesh should give slightly when pressed 
  • Apples: Brightly colored and firm, heavy for their size 
  • Peaches: Fragrant, deeply colored, firm yet slightly soft when pressed 
  • Cherries: Shiny, fat, bright, and with stems intact 
  • Strawberries: Fragrant, bright or deep red — not green or yellow — with fresh, bright green leaves 
  • Stone Fruits: Fruit should be vibrantly colored and fragrant; the flesh should be firm but indent slightly when pressed 
  • Cantaloupe and Honeydew Melon: Rind should be pale yellow, with no dark green spots, and feel heavy for its size 
  • Watermelons: Firm, heavy, with one yellowed spot where it ripened on the ground, and sounds hollow when thumped on the side; the skin should be matte and not shiny, which could indicate the fruit ripened too long on the ground 
  • Blueberries: Rich blue color — not green or red at the top — and dry 

4. Bring cash and shopping bags. 

  • Many farmers markets only accept cash, so come prepared with small bills. Many will also not supply grocery bags. Reuse your old plastic grocery store bags or bring a reusable cloth bag to be sure you have a way to carry all your beautiful produce! 

5. Go early. 

  • For the best selection of produce at your farmers market, go early. The vendors will only have so much of each item and when they sell out, they are out. If you go early, you can ensure the best variety of produce will be there. You can often avoid long lines and big crowds if you go early, but this varies. Try going at different times and see what works best for you! 

6. Go late. 

  • Some farmers markets might offer discounts at the end of the day. Try going later to save some cash but check with your local market as not all markets do this.  

7. Be open. 

  • You might see some interesting looking produce at farmers markets. Be open to trying new things and not being picky! Some produce might not look perfect, but it will still taste amazing. Food is often grown with imperfections. This won’t impact anything but its appearance. Grocery stores opt to not sell imperfect food in hopes to maintain an image of only selling the best food. The produce sold in grocery stores must meet stringent cosmetic standards before it can be sold. This is not true for farmers markets. Food with imperfections are just as good. So, if you see some imperfect food, don’t automatically look away; give it a try!  
  • You might also see some unknown produce. Talk with the farmers and vendors to find out what it is, what it tastes like, how to cook it and how to store it. They will be more than happy to help you! Instead of saying “no thanks” because you have never had it before, try something new! It might just be your new favorite veggie! 

8. Buy in bulk.  

  • Food from farmers markets are often a great price and ultra-fresh. This means the produce is great for freezing or canning! Use up what you can and then before the food goes bad, prep it and store it! This way you will have delicious, nutrient dense produce all year! They will often give you a deal if you buy in bulk as well!  

Shopping at the farmer’s market can be a great way to get out into your community and try some new things. Bring your friends and family along for a fun outing! You’ll save some money, try some new things, eat delicious food, and have a great time!