As a minimalist who strives to run a zero-waste home, being able to cut down on my family’s consumable food waste is a must for my lifestyle. While I’m also still very much a savvy saver with a strict food budget, sometimes the two fields do not always mesh as beautifully as I would hope that they might.
I also live in Mississippi, and while an agrarian state, my newlywed home does not host a large selection of stores that carry natural foods and zero-waste food options in-store more difficult for my family.
Lasy year, as someone new to the zero-waste movement, I focused my buying power on avoiding purchases as a whole. While this strategy was initially economically savvy, focusing solely on living plastic-free limited the quality and availability of what we could buy as a family in our area.
When your only two grocery shopping options are Winn-Dixie and Walmart, you can sometimes feel like you are living on the island of misfit plastic storage bowls.
My focus over this past year, however, has switched from not purchasing goods to finding goods to purchase which were more in-line with my beliefs on sustainable living. This is when I discovered the joys of buying groceries and goods from my local farmer’s market!
The issue again? Finding ways to make shopping at my local farmer’s market as zero-waste as possible.
Through trial and error, I was able to find ways to make the abundance of locally sourced bulk goods and produce found at my local market align with both my vision for my family’s overall zero-waste lifestyle and our wallet too!
So, today I’m sharing my top tips for zero-waste shopping at your local farmer’s market:
Buying larger packages or bags of food, that you will eat and not waste, at a lower price-point, will always save you money. Ask merchants at your market what their bulk pricing is comparative to that by the pound. You will often be quoted savings as much as a third off their stand prices.
Plastic bags cost money. Plastic bags require recycling or being returned to a store for repurposing. Plastic bags require more effort than they are worth. So be sure to take your own reusable bags with you when purchasing goods at your local farmer’s market. Many merchants may give you a percentage off your price for bringing your own bag as well!
Think variety: canvas totes for general items, mesh bags for produce, and even insulated bags for safe transport of dairy, soy, and meat food products during warmer market days.
Look for produce that is pesticide-free, paraben-free, and of course, sticker free. The less you have to dispose of at home the zero-waste your day at the market will be.
At the farmer’s market, look to buy ugly fruits and vegetables, produce that a supermarket may refuse to carry. I often opt for this produce first. I love that these organic gems, often left untouched by other customers, can be purchased in bulk at significant savings, and most importantly, taste every bit as good as their more prima donna counterparts!
It’s a good idea to bring metal bento box containers to the farmer’s market for goods, such as berries. This will help protect them while in transit and help to prevent wilting and spoilage.
Always bring glass mason jars with you to the market. Glass jars, which comes in every conceivable shape and size, can allow you to purchase goods such as soup, kombucha, teas, juices, and prepared foods you may not have ordinarily been able to purchase otherwise.
Now before you use your jars with each vendor, politely ask to have your have your jars tared, or weighted, before you fill them with food. This is done to prevent you from having to pay for the weight of the jar and the goods your purchasing as well. This is especially important for higher ticket items such as organic coffees and teas that costs $10.00 or more per pound on their own!
Another tip? Invest in a reusable wine bottle carrier bag. These bags will help prevent glass jars from clinking together or breaking in transit.
Linen squares can be used to wrap up bread, Danish, and most non-iced baked goods for travel. Linen can also be easily washed making this an idea pastry cloth for market shopping days.
Wax-lined bags are crucial for farmer’s market shopping. They are great for carrying wet produce, cosmetic products, such shampoo bars and lotions, and homemade candles as well. Especially for goods and products that might leak out or cause cross contamination.
When merchants are ready to go home, usually after two in the afternoon, they are often ready to make deals they may not have considered much earlier in the day. A few hours of a delay can save you over half the cost of early morning shopping.
Having a cart or small wagon with you at the market will help to free up your hands while shopping and can help with safer transit to and from your car while shopping at the farmer’s market. Like at a grocery store, when you don’t have to worry about carrying the total weight of goods in-hand, you’ll be more likely to go the more zero-waste route each time you shop.
A notepad is a necessity at the market, and a digital option is always best! I use my phone to jot down merchant names, their social media accounts (as merchants often give discount codes, location directions, and products online to their followers), and market price lists.
A notepad will also help you to maintain a digital, personalized price point list to help keep your budget in mind while shopping at your local farmer’s market.
Cash is king. Especially at a farmer’s market. It costs merchant’s countless funds to run card readers. Instead use cash, use your cash as a bargaining tool when negotiating prices for higher ticket organics.
Also remember to bring along your cash envelopes with you, and stay within your budget while buying what’s fresh on the market. Think whole foods, not your whole check!
So there are my favorite tips for frugal zero-waste shopping and budgeting at my local farmer’s markets. While you may not have similar shopping choices or you may just be starting out on the zero-waste path, feel free to glean whatever ideas may help you along your way.
When it comes to zero-waste living, go slow. Be wise in your spending. Mindful of your budget. And always have fun.
Remember, this is a lifestyle, and a lesson on sustainable living.
Here’s to better days at the market,