In the first edition of “Weekly Snapshots,” I expressed joy upon discovering my university’s on-campus farmers’ market. I was so excited that I bought everything that caught my eye, not planning how I would utilize all of my new ingredients. I returned to my apartment with a motley of produce and artisan products, much of which spoiled because I had overestimated how much I could consume. Since that first visit, I have learned to approach the farmers’ market with a college student’s outlook. In this comprehensive guide, I provide students with advice and essential tips for navigating farmers’ markets on a budget.
1. Choose produce wisely. The farmers’ market should be your one-stop shop for fresh produce. As a student, you must select items that will stay fresh throughout the week and easily transform into meals. I recommend sturdy fruits and vegetables such as apples, citrus, carrots, zucchini, and squash. Steer clear of produce that ripens quickly, such as stone fruits and tomatoes. As tempting as that $5, three-pack of ruby-red strawberries is, remember that it will become a mushy mess in less than two days.
2. Sample with discretion. Everyone loves free stuff, and college students rarely turn down free food. Despite your urge to stick a toothpick into every sample, you should only taste items that you wish to purchase. You do not want to reach a state of palate overload–when all of the flavors have morphed together and you have forgotten which fruits reigned supreme.
3. Get to know your vendors. Farmers and artisans are usually very friendly people who love to talk about their products. They care about what they sell, and will passionately answer your questions. If you develop relationships with particular vendors, many will provide “loyalty discounts” or throw in additional products for you to try. Farmers often reserve the best quality produce for their regular customers.
4. Look for healthy snacks. Snacking defines college eating patterns (especially during exam periods). When you crave something to get through that midnight study session, nutritious snacks should always be on-hand. The farmers’ market offers a wide variety of delicious munchies that can energize students without making them crash. Some of my go-to options are fresh veggies dipped in hummus, mixed nuts, and dried fruits. Buy different snacks every week to avoid falling into a boring routine.
5. Take advantage of prepared, ethnic foods. We all know how monotonous the cafeteria gets after just a few weeks of school. Ethnic food purveyors offer an escape from bland dining hall options, often for very low prices. Two authentic Salvadorian pupusas each the size of my hand, with a side of salsa and crema, only cost me $5. If I’m not in the mood to cook or don’t have time, I buy extra for dinner and simply reheat it in the microwave.