By , YMCA Registered Dietitian

Here in Middle Tennessee, we have an abundance of farmers markets that really start to rev up in the spring and provide access to fresh, local produce well into the fall.

Shopping at a farmers market can be such a wonderful experience that can introduce you to new produce and allow you access to fruits and veggies that didn’t have to travel very far before winding up on your plate. Investing in local produce not only supports family farms nearby, but can also be incredibly beneficial to you and your family.

Follow these 5 savvy shopping tips to get the most out of your farmers market trip.

Be bold and adventurous: When you show up to the farmers market, you may spot fresh produce you’ve never seen or even heard of before—like squash blossoms, Chioggia beets or celery root. Instead of shying away from the unheard-of, take a risk! Try something new, research a recipe and give it a go. You may discover a new family favorite.

Use EBT/SNAP: Some farmers markets (like the one in Downtown Nashville) will not only accept your SNAP benefits as payment for produce, but will actually double the value. That means that if you get $10 per month to spend, they make it $20! Don’t let the cost of fresh produce prevent you from incorporating it into your daily diet. You can make your limited income go further with this awesome program and allow your family to have access to twice as much fresh, local produce.  

Include the family: Make a trip to the farmers market a family affair! Not only will you introduce young children to fun new items, but everyone can get some exercise in by walking around to all of the booths. Research shows that children who are more involved in shopping and cooking with healthy produce are more likely to eat it. Turn the visit into a game, and take turns picking out the most unique produce you can find. Then, see if you can work together to turn it into a new, delicious dinner! 

Invest in a CSA: Community Supported Agriculture is a program where local farmers build baskets of the produce or meat they have available at any given time. You invest ahead of time, allowing them more financial security, and in exchange you get an abundance of the freshest products available. Some CSAs will allow you to build your own basket, while others will surprise you with new products or familiar favorites, and take the burden of shopping off your plate. CSAs are not only a convenient way to get fresh, seasonal produce, but are a tool for supporting local business and creating a thriving food system where producers and consumers work together for the goal of nutritious and delicious products and meals.  

Buy in bulk: Purchasing larger quantities often means that you get a better value and more bang for your buck. Don’t worry about not being able to eat everything before it goes bad; you can use all kinds of recipes to store (or “put up” as we like to say here in the south) your perishable produce. You can pickle just about anything, and canning jams and preserves allows you to enjoy your farmers market finds long after the weather cools down in the fall.  

The farmers market can be a truly magical place full of exciting new produce and interesting local farmers. Follow these tips to make your trip more successful, allow you to get the most for your money and make eating well a priority in your family!

Hungry for more?

See 5 of our favorite farmers market foods! You can learn more about eating healthier on our blog or in person as part of the YMCA Weight Loss Program.