If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area that has farm stands – those small, typically “self serve” and “honor system” stands with produce situated off the road in front of the owner’s property – this is a great time of year to make the most of the amazing deals you can find there. Recently, we discovered a couple of new ones on our way to run an errand and bought some lovely produce. Why not cut out the “middle man”, help farmers keep more of the money, and get a great deal on fresh produce?
Before you head out to those farm stands, know that not all of them take forms of payment other than cash, so bring cash if you’re not certain – or you may go home empty-handed. Surprisingly, though, while “cash is king” (and remember, paying cash means that there aren’t any credit card transaction fees taking a cut of what you’re paying the farmer), we’ve found more than one that accepted alternatives like Venmo and Paypal.
We scored some great deals on tomatoes, peppers, and cabbages in late summer. To get the best deal, be prepared to visit multiple farm stands and compare the prices: some farms, for example, will sell tomatoes by the pound. Others may sell tomatoes for a price per tomato or by another unit of measure, like “$6 for a full bucket” – you merely select your tomatoes and put them in the provided bucket, and once it’s full, you pay $6 for that bucket’s worth. Personally, I prefer the “per tomato” or “per bucket” pricing.
Not all farm stands will carry the same items; for example, one may offer tomatoes and cucumbers, while another may offer peppers and zucchini. Again, shop around to find out which stands offer specific types of produce. Offerings will also change seasonally: a farm stand we patronized in summer has transitioned to fall offerings of pumpkins and gourds of all sizes and shapes, as well as straw bales and dry corn stalks for decoration. It’s too early for pumpkin carving, so we went to a different stand, probably a mile or so away.
The next stand offered a couple of different types of squash, a few tomatoes a bit past their prime, a lone cabbage, and something that was unique: turnips! Not only were some of these turnips quite large, but the greens on them were enormous – like 3 feet tall. When you buy turnips at the grocery store, they rarely include the greens, which is a shame because the greens are edible and quite nutritious. It was exciting to imagine what we’d enjoy those greens (oh, and the turnips, too) in. More to come on the turnips!
I have to admit that that I wasn’t familiar with the type of squash offered – cushaw – and now that I’ve had an opportunity to do a little research on them, I realize that I should have bought at least a couple because they are reputed to be excellent for making pies and are even called the “sweet potato squash”. Next time, I’ll definitely buy some.
When you’re selecting produce – regardless of whether it’s at a farm stand or in the grocery store – look for signs that it’s fresh and undamaged. To be clear, I’m not recommended buying only “unblemished” produce; real produce has blemishes and bug bites, and that doesn’t stop me from buying – and enjoying – it. At one farm stand earlier this summer, I was inspecting a large zucchini that I was contemplating buying, only to realize that it was so squishy in one spot (probably from rough handling and sitting in the sun) that it collapsed beneath my finger. Ew. Another important note about buying from farm stands in the hot months: look for those that keep their produce under some kind of cover, like a large awning, and out of the direct sunlight. A couple of stands we stopped at had tomatoes sitting in the sun due to the angle of the light, and they were, essentially, cooking. In contrast, another stand had a very large awning that kept the produce out of the sunlight and the owners had also put some ice in the containers that the various peppers were in to help keep them cool in the heat.
Lest I should give the impression that farm stands only offer produce, we’ve found stands that offer fresh eggs (refrigerated), honey, dog chew toys made of antlers, dried herbs and peppers, honey, and jams. One farm stand we stopped at was supervised by a little girl who beamed with pride when we purchased some tomatoes and zucchini. We were happy to have fresh produce and to be supporting a local farmer for whom the farm stand may be a “side gig” to supplement another source of income: I call that a “win/win”.
If you’re looking for a way to support small farmers (and backyard gardeners), buying directly from their farm stands is an easy way to do it. You may find some gems there that you weren’t expecting, and they may challenge you to expand your cooking repertoire! Buy local and eat well.