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Making the Most of Your Farmers' Market Experience

From the Show: Eat Right Radio
Summary: Do you have trouble navigating your local farmers' market?
Air Date: 6/30/15
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: Sara Haas, RDN, LDN
haasSara Haas works as a freelance writer, recipe developer, and as a consultant dietitian/chef for marketing firms as well as for Roche Dietitians and the Centered Chef. A former culinary and nutrition instructor at Kendall College, Haas received formal training in culinary arts. She has led numerous live cooking demonstrations on television and at the Taste of Chicago. She has written articles for Eating Well Magazine and the sports-centered website She has created recipes for organizations including Kids Eat Right, the Hass Avocado Board and for the advertising company Leo Burnett. Haas is the voice of the daily “Eating Right” one-minute nutrition messages on Chicago’s WBBM AM 780 and 105.9 FM. Haas is a graduate of Indiana University. She attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago.

Making the Most of Your Farmers' Market Experience
Do you have trouble navigating your local farmers' market?

From the myriad of vendors to the ever-changing produce, it can be an intimidating experience.

Listen in to Sara Haas, RDN, to learn tips on how to know what’s in season, what to ask your local farmers, and how to make the most of your farmers' market purchases.

Melanie Cole (Host):  Do you sometimes have trouble navigating your local farmer's market? You know, from the myriad of vendors that you can see there can sometimes be a little intimidating. There is ever changing produce and some of it doesn't always look that great and you are not sure whether or not you should buy it and how to even talk to these vendors. Should you haggle for the price? What should you do? My guest today is Sara Haas. She is a registered dietitian nutritionist. Welcome to the show, Sara. So, farmer's markets are popping up everywhere. They are great. It's a great, sustainable way to stay local. Tell us about the farmer's market and give us your best advice on how to navigate that.

Sara Haas (Guest):  Right and thanks so much for having me, Melanie. It's really a pleasure for me to be here today. I guess I have a few tips that might make it a little less intimidating for people that maybe have a little hesitancy of going to a farmer's market in their area. My first tip would be to walk the whole market first. A lot of people sort of walk in and they start buying stuff right away. They don't know what they are doing but my recommendation is to get to know what's there and what's in season.  The best tip is to just take a stroll around and see what's laying on the tables. That way, you get a good picture of what's fresh, what's in season in your area and this gives you an idea kind of where you want to spend your money first.

Melanie:  That's great advice. It's something I like to do, too, is to walk around and see what's there first. And when you are walking around, do you take special notice of the guy with the beets or the guy with the cherries and the guy two doors down with the beets and the cherries and how much they are costing differently?

Sara:  Right. Well, I don't know about in your area but I am in Chicago and for the most part, I have noticed that a lot of people, they price their things similarly and I don't know if that is out of respect for each other so that there is not a lot of price comparison. It's just sort of maybe this person has better relationship with this farmer or something like that. So, in my area that's actually not an issue. The price of things seems pretty comparable from table to table. But that kind of brings me to my other tip, which is talking to the farmers. I think a lot of people do themselves a disservice by just sort of hanging back and waiting for their turn to go buy something instead of getting in there and really talking to the resource because the farmers are the ones who grew the food and, from my experience, they want to talk to you about their food. They are excited about their food and they want to tell you all about it. They are the best resource at the farmer's market, as far as I am concerned.

Melanie:  Well, I like talking to them, too, and it is always so interesting. Sometimes they'll even get into their stories with you and I am in the Chicago area as well, so we have that in common.

Sara:  Oh! Great!

Melanie:  So, now what about trusting what you are getting? Sometimes people are willing to pay a little bit more to get that fresh, sustainable produce and things but sometimes you are not sure if you are really getting what they say; like the guy with the meat and the eggs and the bacon. Sometimes you see those guys at the farmer's market and you are just not really sure if they are overcharging or if it's because it's fresh that it's charged that much.

Sara:  Right. I would say that's a really great point, Melanie, too. I would say it behooves you to do a good bit of research before you enter farmer's market, too. Or, if you are feeling kind of apprehensive about the person, go with your gut, but I would say do some research. We are lucky in Chicago here we have some great markets where their information is readily available. So, we can go online or we can even at the farmer's market see signs that sort of give us information about that vendor--that farmer--so that we can take a closer look into their business and how they run their business. So, I think that's a great tip and that's kind of along lines of getting to know the farmers because once you feel comfortable maybe with the egg guy at the farmer’s market, you'll feel better about purchasing those eggs and okay with paying a little bit more for them because you know that they just came from maybe a town away.

Melanie:  Sometimes the produce looks wilted and we know that there is preservatives and things added to the produce we get a Jewel or even at Whole Foods.  You know they do things. They package them differently but some of these farmers, Sara, actually just take the produce, stick it in a box and go to the farmer's market. Do we pay attention to the wilted beet leaves or to the way things sometimes look a little bit damaged.

Sara:  Yes. Oh, my gosh. That's a great point, Melanie, because you wouldn't buy that at your local grocery store, so why would you buy that at the farmer's market?  Be smart, use the same mindset you would when you are at the grocery store. Pick things that look fresh; that are firm if they are supposed to be firm; pick them if they are firm. If they looking brown and ragged and bumpy and they shouldn't be, then absolutely don't pay top dollar for things like that. In fact, I have often asked the person, the farmer or whoever behind the table, is this out of season now?  It's kind of looking a little bit tired. Most of the times, they are honest with me and they say, “Yes. This is last of the crop and we just figured we'd bring it because we got a few people that really love it.” So, maybe some of them aren't trying to con you, they are just bringing it because maybe there are two or three people that really don't mind eating it that way. But, yes, be a proponent for picking the best stuff when it's in season.

Melanie:  You certainly, as a registered dietitian nutritionist, know about the foods that we are buying and certainly it feels like you are buying healthier foods. Do they not last as long when they are fresh like that as they would? Like right now, peas are in season and so people are selling shelled peas but do those last for as long as if you are getting peas? Or, how do you know how long this produce lasts?

Sara:  Right. That’s another good question that you should ask your farmer. Ask them when they were picked. A lot of times, the farmers will tell you that they were picked that morning. If they're picked that morning, there is a good chance that those are going to last you a lot longer than the things you would buy at the grocery store. I’ve bought mixed lettuce greens at the farmer's market and they have lasted me at least two weeks whereas the greens I have bought at the grocery store have only lasted me maybe a couple of days. So, in my experience, the things at the farmer's market -- because I feel that and I have reached out to my farmers – they’re honest with me and have expressed to me about how fresh their products are, I have experienced that freshness by not having the food waste because their ingredients last much longer. So, really, it's a benefit for you. Maybe you are spending a few more dollars at the farmer's market but you're going to have a few more days to enjoy it. So, you can look at it that way too.

Melanie:  Do you think that the farmers and the merchants there get insulted if you were to ask them, “Is this organic? Do you use pesticides?” Should you be asking questions like that or does that insult them in some way?

Sara:  I think that for the most part -- I'm going to I generalize -- I would say farmers are really happy to talk to you and they really want to tell you all about what they are growing. If they want to sell their product. They want you to come back. They are going to be honest with you and give you the full story. Yes. You should always ask questions. Always ask if it’s organic, if that's important to you and you should always ask what kind of pesticides they are using. The more questions, the better. That just makes you an informed purchaser and that looks well upon you and I think it actually gets the farmers excited when you show so much interest in what they are doing. So, I think it only works in your favor to ask more questions. Be kind of like the nerdy student in the class who's always asking the questions.

Melanie:  Well, sure but it’s such an important thing to do to know your local produce vendors and to get to know these guys selling the fresh eggs because there is nothing—nothing--that tastes better than fresh eggs compared to the ones that you get at Jewel. In just the last 30 seconds or minute, Sara, please give your best advice for shopping at the farmer's market. What a great topic this is.

Sara:  Oh, fun! I know. I could talk forever. I guess I would say, don't be afraid. Step up to the table. Talk to the farmer, Pick up the produce. Smell it, touch it, ask all your questions and just enjoy it. And ask them how to use it and really take the time to spend with the farmers and looking at all the produce and taste it, too. Ask them to taste it. If the sample is out, make sure to ask to taste it.

Melanie:  What great advice. There are usually samples so don't be intimidated to try those samples because you are buying their product and they want you to come back. As Sara Hass says, don't be afraid to ask questions. Ask when it was picked. Ask how long it will last after that. Ask what pesticides and if it’s organic and what they use. Go ahead and ask all these questions because those vendors want you to come back. It may cost a little bit more but it is local and sustainable and certainly a healthier choice than getting some of the vegetables and things that you see at your local grocery stores that you don't know where they came from, what's being used on them. They look like plastic and taste like that too. So, shop at your local farmer's markets because it is certainly a great way to support your local community. You are listening to Eat Right Radio with our good friends form the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information go to That's This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening and stay well.