I love my weekend shopping trips to the area farmers’ markets.

But with the economy headed down a steep hill, I’ve been forced to find ways to cut back on my spending.

I’ve found some ways to still support the local farming community while still having money left over to get to the office each day.

Here are my ideas for shopping at a farmers market on a budget.

1. Asses your options when you get there.
Prices, freshness and quality will vary slightly between booths so first take a walk around the market to see what everyone is offering.

Look at prices, variety, all the while think about what you can buy to pair together or to put that fresh touch to a standard dish.

2. One idea is to get things that you can’t easily replace from a grocery store.

For example, NOTHING tastes as good as a yellow or beefstake tomato plucked from the vine a few hours before you slice it up and serve it with some kosher salt and fresh ground pepper with a touch of olive oil.

Or how about buying fresh herbs, homemade cheese and garlic and using them in your next pasta dish.

3. Look for discount bins. Sometime farmers will have some food set aside to sell at a discount price because it’s about to turn overripe or it has slight imperfections.

My grandma once taught me to look for discount bins for apples to slice up and bake in a pie. I follow the same idea today.

If you are going to boil, chop, bake or otherwise alter the look of the produce, it won’t make lick of difference in the flavor of your food.

4. Timing is everything. If you come 10 minutes before the market closes, farmers will probably have already started marking down the prices of produce.
Pick a place that has a few things you want and only a few things left of each. Next…say something like: “If I buy two pounds of these peaches at full price would you be willing to throw in that pint-sized carton of green beans?

Don’t make ridiculous offers and always be respectful about it. Chances are they will accept your bid or they will offer a similar compromise.

4. The most important thing along with taking these cost-cutting actions is to conquer your fear of asking stupid questions. The best trick to coming home with what you want is to ask the farmer about the produce.

For example, garlics at farmers markets are very different in heat and flavors. I love adding hot (the spicier) garlic to give my food a bite.

On Sunday I came home happy with a large head of garlic that the farmer told me was of a variety so spicy that it made him cry. He wasn’t kidding.

This morning I cooked up my lunch of sliced and sauteed garden yellow squash (farmers market) with onions, thyme and garlic. After dicing up half a garlic clove I ran my finger along the side of the cutting knife and licked the garlic residue off my finger.

Imagine my surprise when my eyes started watering.

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