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Farmers Markets and Farmstands

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for September, 2000, Vol. 4, No. 5

What am I thinking of with two food tips in a row? It's just that this won't do anyone much good if I wait until winter, and I'll have forgotten by next summer. I wanted to share it while it's still fresh in my mind. I've already written the next two issues, and I guarantee they are NOT about food! And next month's could save you a nice big pile of money over time.

On a trip to Boulder, Colorado, I experienced the best farmer's market of my life: Probably about 40 vendors offering luscious summer fruits (peaches, nectarines, cherries), inexpensive organic produce, goat cheese, Hmong sauces, breads and pastries, honey... Many of these vendors offered samples. There was even a food court with a wide array of lunch choices: delicious vegetarian corn tamales (from $2), giant pieroshki, Chinese dumplings, homemade ice cream... Our family of four ate a main course and dessert each for $17 total.

The expanded farmer's market has become a trend recently; It's a lot more than just vegetables now. Our local market in Amherst, Massachusetts is similar, though a bit smaller and without the food court. Its non-produce items include homemade fudge, handcrafted soaps, fancy herbal vinegars, among many other things. And a good percentage of roadside farmstands have also expanded their offerings; some have even morphed into full-fledged gourmet shops.

In the Northern Hemisphere, there's still a good two months left to enjoy the simple pleasure of a stroll through the farmer's market or a trip to a roadside stand. Not only will you get farm-fresh produce--often organic--at reasonable prices, you're also supporting local agriculture.

Sometimes there are real bargains to be had, especially if you can buy in bulk. A farmstand near me offers 50-pound (a bit over 20 kg) sacks of potatoes for $4. A crate of winter keeping squash at one of our local farmers markets is about the same, and a bushel of apples is usually about $6--even less if you pick your own. Squash and potatoes are good winter keepers, while fruit can be made into applesauce, dried, canned, or turned into jam. We even get our milk from a local farmstand, paying about a dollar less per half-gallon than for milk of comparable quality and lower freshness in the supermarket.

And, of course, these ways of shopping have a social aspect. Every week at our local farmer's market, I run into friends. Similarly, farmstands with a regular clientele often serve as a social center--especially if they've got a few tables and serve coffee, sandwiches, soup, and ice cream.

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