Get the most out of farmers markets

Local vendors offer fresh, local products

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At the risk of jinxing the whole thing, it looks like spring has finally arrived. This is great news for all of us who love the outdoors and everything the Northwest has to offer.

For many, one of the best parts of spring is the reopening of area farmers markets. With a vibrant local agriculture scene, our region offers incredible bounty sure to meet the needs of everyone from casual home cook to seasoned chef.

But when faced with more than a hundred different vendors, shopping at a farmers market can turn into a daunting proposition for many. I am often asked how to really take advantage of everything a farmers market has to offer, and am surprised when I see people leaving with just a few apples or a loaf of bread.

I asked a number of seasoned shoppers and vendors what they thought people should know before coming to the market and have compiled a few tips to help you get the most out of your local farmers market experience.

• Get there early: Most of the market produce is picked right before it’s loaded on the truck and driven to market. Getting there early allows you the best selection, widest variety and freshest produce.

• Walk through the whole market: Take some time to walk the entire market and see what options are available. You might be surprised to find that a certain product is only available at one vendor, especially when it’s just coming into season. Once you have had a chance to get a good idea of all the offerings, make a plan and start filling your shopping bag.

• Get to know the vendors: Nothing makes a market trip better than getting to know local farmers and vendors better. Learn about their growing practices, get recipe ideas and often get access to the very best products this way.

• Bring cash: More vendors are beginning to accept credit and debit cards, and the market has a token program to help you use your card. But cash -- especially small bills -- is still king … and vendors will love you for it.

• More than produce: While fresh local produce is a great draw, farmers markets today offer a wide variety of products for consumers. Visitors to the Vancouver Farmers Market can get fresh meat, artisan bread, local honey and a bounty of other products such as jams, syrups and much more. The market is a complete shopping experience.

Hopefully, these tips will help make your farmers market shopping experience even better than before.

National trends in farmers markets have shown that as shoppers become more educated and patronize local vendors at a greater rate, markets grow and prosper. With the increasing interest toward local food options, a well-supported market yields great dividends -- not only for vendors but shoppers as well -- by encouraging greater variety, quality and access for everyone.

Jordan Boldt has been executive director at the Vancouver Farmers Market for two years. He previously ran a farmers market for a small municipality and worked in business development with start-up businesses. He can be reached through the market’s website, http://www.vancouverfarmersmarket.com