Saturday mornings are a special treat for me. I wake up, feed our doggie and make some breakfast. Usually that means pancakes, but today we had an amazing bread left over from yesterday so I made delicious vegan grilled ‘cheese’ sandwiches with cinnamon oat milk lattes on the side. As soon as the vegan treats were gobbled up, it was time for my Saturday trip to the farmers’ market where I buy our veggies for the week. As I was walking through it today I realized how this way of shopping was not about getting an errand done or filling the fridge. For me, and I’m sure it would be the same for most of you, it’s an absolute joyous occasion filled with colors, conversations with strangers, the bright sun on your face and the most relaxed way of shopping. This is my other kind of yoga and I can easily spend over an hour there just enjoying the ride.
Today I saw an adorable golden retriever basking in the sun while his humans waited to buy some eggplants. He looked so blissful that I decided to step out of the shade and wait for my turn getting some vitamin D as well. Two minutes later I saw the cutest little girls putting there hands up while their grandpa opened a bag of freshly bought green olives. With time you get to know the veggie vendors and many by name. People are so patient waiting for their turn and getting ideas from what others buy. Today I heard stories about Summer vacations, and my favorite vendor ‘Manuel’ greeted me by saying ‘Kim! How did life treat you this week?’ (this put a smile on my face instantly!).
It truly is an amazing experience, and it really inspired me to show you what an hour at the farmers’ market looks like, some great shopping tips for getting the best bang for your buck, and ideas for storing your goodies when you get home. Let’s get to it shall we?
Is it cheaper or more expensive to shop at farmers’ markets?
The short answer is, it depends on the farmers’ market and what you buy. Some farmers’ markets are famous for being quite expensive, these usually include those gorgeous stands where they sell artisanal jams and exotic chutneys and vinegars. Others, are so cheap you will never want to step foot in the supermarket again. Having said that, you can find bargains at any farmers’ market if you shop for what’s in season and even more so if it’s locally grown. The rest of the tips below will also help you find a bargain. If at first you find a farmers’ market that made your eyes pop out of your head when you reached for your wallet, keep looking. My farmers’ market was not my first pick and it’s a simple short line of stands in a parking lot in front of the forest near my house, it’s a steal if you know what to buy.
The benefits of going early, the benefits of going late
Some people (myself included in the beginning), get up really early on farmers’ market days to get first pick of the produce of the day. It really is the perfect time to find anything your heart desires and avoid the crowds. If some of your veggie vendors only sell the produce they grow themselves and also have a small harvest, going early is probably your best bet. If what you’re looking for is the best price available, go a little bit later. Farmers and vendors hate tossing leftover produce, so they will give you eye popping prices (the other kind of eye popping!) just so they can make some final sales at the end of the day. In Spain I’ve discovered that vendors usually take quite a lot of produce on market days so it’s not very likely they will run out. I go towards the end of the morning and get some great deals. Today, I spotted three bunches of spinach and asked how much they were gong for. The woman looked at the price list and told me they usually sold them at €1.65 per bunch but that she thought she wasn’t going to be able to sell them. I ended up buying the three bunches for €1 total! Great for my green juices!
The one thing you won’t get at the supermarket
I know that supermarkets are convenient because you can buy your toilet paper and your bananas without leaving the store, I get it. When shopping for produce however, here’s something you’ll never get at the supermarket: a crash course on seasonality. This means, that because supermarkets want to offer you year round produce, you never get to see what fruits and vegetables are grown in what season and you end up buying produce that is more expensive and that usually had to travel a long distance to get to the shelf. At the veggie stands, you find what’s in season. This might seem restrictive, but it actually is quite fun! The expectation of waiting to see the first glorious melons of the Summer, or wondering if it’s already cold enough for wild mushrooms on your way there, is part of the fun. You can still go to the supermarket if you really need something for a recipe and it’s not in season, but soon you’ll be cooking seasonally too. I decide my menus based on what I find at the market, and I work with what I have. Seasonality means more flavor, better prices, less impact on the environment and more creative adventures in the kitchen.
Buy ripe, buy green
How often you shop is really a matter of personal preference and it depends on the size of your fridge and the time you have during the week. I personally do all my shopping on Saturdays and stock my kitchen like crazy. This means, that if I’d bought everything ripe and ready to eat, half of the stuff would spoil before the following Saturday. For this reason, I buy some of my fruits and veggies ripe and others on the greener side and leave them on the counter to ripen at their own pace. Once I’ve gobbled up the the ripe avocados, the two that were sitting on the counter are perfectly ready. If you have a small kitchen, are walking home with your produce in tow, or are one of those lucky people that have farmers’ markets around you several times a week, I recommend buying ripe produce that is ready to eat and go back for more when you need to.
Glorious greens keep the greens in your pocket
Iceberg lettuce aside, green leafy vegetables (the darker the better) are not only the biggest nutritional powerhouses on the planet, but they’re usually a bargain due to the fact that many of them are weeds and grow like crazy! Another reason you might find these on sale? Many people have no idea what to do with them and choose to leave them behind. Kale, the new celebrity of vegetables in the US is a weed that grows everywhere in the Northern part of Spain and yet is virtually unknown. When veggie vendors carry greens like these they’re usually sold as fillers for soups and stews and cost next to nothing. These are also why farmers and vendors love vegans and vegetarians, we always seem to buy ‘the weird stuff’.
Get to know your vendors and farmers
Once you develop a relationship with them they’ll be looking out for you! One of my favorite veggie vendors ‘Manuel’, always has my greens ready for me when I arrive (he picks the best and biggest bunch of kale for me every single week when it’s in season), he also knows the kinds of things I like (more acidic tomatoes as opposed to very sweet tomatoes for example) and makes suggestions and gives me cooking tips (he very kindly leaves out the pig’s feet and lard from his recommendations). He also makes the exception of giving me only half of the only three things my hubby won’t eat and which I love: melons, watermelons and cauliflower. Before the farmers’ market I never bought them because I knew I would eventually have to toss a spoiled half. On the wonderful occasion in which the vendor is the farmer, knowing and shaking the hand of the man or woman who grew your food is very special.
The hard part of my Saturdays is making all the goodies I buy fit in my kitchen and fridge! I never know how I actually manage to fit everything in (as you’ll see in a few minutes). I recommend keeping a bowl on your counter for fruits and veggies that are not yet ripe, or are better at room temperature. I keep my herbs on the counter or in the fridge inside a glass with some water. Although I always tell the vendors they can put the produce I buy directly inside my recyclable bags and not in plastic ones, some do turn up and I always remove the produce from the bags when storing them (they take up less room and you can see them and use them!). The biggest tip I can give you is that if you have any produce left over from the previous week, take it out before you put the new one in and place it at the front of the fridge or shelves. This way, you’ll use up the food that is likely to spoil sooner, first.
Until I got the hang of things (and on some occasions since then), I would sometimes go crazy with the colors and options at the farmers’ market and buy like I was feeding a family of ten. If and when this happens, and you arrive home with a severe case of buyers remorse and produce that needs two pantries and two fridges, make a pot of soup and a glorious juice if you have a juicer. A lot of veggies and fruits can be used up in this way (especially if you still had some left over from last week) and you can have a super healthy lunch, dinner or snack. Leftover soup or veggie broth can even be frozen for future occasions. How about grilling some veggies and storing them for the week? How about making some yummy treats for friends and family and sitting around the table together?
WHAT’S IN THE BAG?
This wouldn’t be a good shopping guide if I didn’t show you my loot right? Take a look inside my shopping bag just as my cute ‘doggie niece’ Charlotte is doing above (I’m dog sitting the white curious doggie above this week, and you can also see my Nala in the back having a drink of water). Today I’m showing you every single thing I bought and of course the grand total!
This table seats six. Take a look at all those veggies! Today I bought: mushrooms, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, three different kinds of onions (yellow, sweet and red), a bunch of parsley, a bunch of green onions, two heads of broccoli, half a head of cauliflower, green beans, four leeks, a bag of padron peppers (for the traditional – and vegan! – Spanish tapa), a very big zucchini for making ratatouille, a bunch of asparagus, two very big and bright red bell peppers, two long Italian peppers, four avocados, the infamous three bunches of spinach, a huge bunch of curly kale, some lemons, bananas, plums, ‘Claudia’ plums, kiwis, a grapefruit and some figs.
As you can tell from the photo, I prefer vegetables to fruits, which is why you don’t see that many of them. The other reason for that is that I bought some apples and half a watermelon last week and I still have some left over!
Kale has to be one of the prettiest vegetables around. It’s that beautiful bunch of curly greens in the back here.
This week’s incredible bargain, my three bunches of spinach which will be juiced this afternoon with some apples, ginger, lemon, celery and cucumber!
The only extra thing I need to buy for the week is a bag of arugula, some walnuts and some blueberries since these are rarely found at the farmers’ markets in Spain and they’re a daily part of my table. Other than that (and non dairy milk, beans and whole grains I buy in bulk and always keep in my pantry), this table full of veggies makes up about a week and a half of food for us.
GRAND TOTAL = €43.50
LAST WEEK WITH A SIMILAR HAUL = € 38
(and we still have some of those goodies left over!)
This doesn’t mean this is all we spend or buy per week, we still need common staples like everyone else, but since veggies make up the bulk of our diet I’d say this is pretty darn great! You might think this is an enormous amount of veggies, but do take into account that my hubby and I make freshly pressed juices on a regular basis, and that uses up a ton of them. If I were to buy only the veggies that I ate, the amount of produce and money would be a bit less. We also eat most of our meals at home. Not bad for a great morning spent at the farmer’s market! Now I get to enjoy it for the rest of the week.
The expensive part of a vegan diet comes when you buy a lot of the yummy processed goodies like sausages, veggie meats (other than tempeh and tofu which are really cheap), ice cream, and vegan cheeses. We buy these things from time to time as well, but by making whole foods like these the main part of your diet (plus your whole grains and beans which are very inexpensive especially if bought in bulk), you can keep costs down and enjoy your farmers’ market pleasures.