Shopping for local food on a budget: Part one

MSU Extension offers tips for stretching your dollar when buying local foods.

Stock up on tomatoes for freezing or canning in late summer when they are in peak season and priced to move. Photo credit: Julia Darnton, MSU Extension Community Food Systems educator

Stock up on tomatoes for freezing or canning in late summer when they are in peak season and priced to move. Photo credit: Julia Darnton, MSU Extension Community Food Systems educator

Despite opinions to the contrary, buying fresh local food is possible when money is tight. Budget-conscious shopping strategies and food assistance benefits can help people get more local food for their money at farmers markets, roadside stands, and local food retailers.

Part one of this article focuses on shopping strategies, while part two outlines the different food assistance benefits that are available to Michigan residents to purchase local food.

Follow these tips while shipping at a farmers market to stretch your dollar:

Know what is in season: Farmers may charge premium prices for items that are not in peak season; for example, greenhouse tomatoes in early summer. Buy foods in their peak season to get the best price and consider freezing or preserving them for later use. MSU Extension’s Michigan Fresh fact sheets offer information on using, storing, and preserving fruits and vegetables. This seasonality chart is a helpful tool for understanding Michigan’s produce growing season.

Know when to shop: Some farmers mark down items or offer special buys towards the end of a market. While shopping early at the market ensures more variety in the products available, shopping towards the end may yield better bargains.

Shop around: Different vendors may have slightly different prices on the same item. Stroll around the market before you purchase to compare prices.

Ask for seconds: Seconds are imperfect-looking produce can still be perfectly useable. These are rarely put out for sale, so ask the farmer if they have seconds available at a reduced price. Learn more by reading “In praise of ugly produce.”

Another way to save money on local food is to throw away less and use edible food parts that are often overlooked such as beet tops and broccoli stems. Michigan State University Extension’s series of articles “Are you throwing away valuable food?” Parts one, two, and three offer helpful tips for getting the most mileage out of the foods you purchase.

Michigan State University Extension supports the development of community food systems in Michigan by providing resources and programs to improve access to an adequate, affordable and nutritious diet for all. Sign up to receive a monthly newsletter from MSU Extension Community Food Systems.

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