A trip to your weekly farmer’s market – it sounds so easy breezy. Fresh produce at direct-to-shopper prices? There’s nothing wrong with that.
But in reality, navigating a farmer’s market isn’t always a piece of cake…er…ripe fruit. Unlike a supermarket where everything is well thought out and categorized, a farmer’s market can be rather unorganized. Vendors compete for visibility and sell similar products. There’s both organic and conventional produce. Much is in season, while other fruits and veggies may be coming in or out of season.
Why shop in season? When buying local produce, there’s usually an abundance of crop when produce is in-season. And more crop means lower cost. Produce usually has a better taste during it’s season/peak season, and when harvested at its peak, has the maximum amount of available nutrients.
Going in prepared can be the difference between getting tasty, in-season produce and going home underwhelmed. So here’s our handy guide to shopping in-season this spring, as well as helpful tips on when it’s OK to go conventional and when to splurge on organic. Lastly, shopping in season gives you and nice variety of fruits and vegetables year-long. Because let’s be honest — in most places, you simply can’t get berries in winter!
Spring Produce: What’s in Season?
- Artichokes – In season from March to December. Peak season from March to May. Artichokes are best when the leaves are tightly clung together, as open leaves will have a more bland taste. Avoid brown spots as much as possible and definitely choose the heavier, meatier artichokes for the best quality.
- Apricots – May to August, peaking from May through July. Choose fruits that are darker yellow and orange in color and avoid bruises. You want plump yet slightly firm, especially if you’re eating them whole and not using them for pies or jams.
- Berries – May to October. Most berries peak during the summer. Few fruits get so drastically better during peak season, especially strawberries. Berries do require some luck to get the best tasting ones, so ask your vendor for a sample. The second best way is smell: ripe berries give off a nice sweetness. In general, deeper, darker color is best, but that means they may only last a day or two.
- Cherries – April to July. Peak in summer. Similar to berries, look for deep color. In general, cherries with stems tend to be of better quality, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Unlike many fruits, cherries like the cold, so store your cherries in the fridge as soon as you get home.
- Asparagus – February to June. Peak begins around April running through June. Look for spears that are firm and brighter green in color. Make sure the tips are closed and not wilted. That means it’s probably past its prime, or at least a few days riper than you want the vegetable to be.
- Celery – April through December. Peak in summer. Like artichokes and asparagus, you want the stalks to be closed tightly. Make sure the leaves are fresh and not wilted. Color should be a light green.
- Peas – April to November, peaking from April through June. They’re relatively easy to choose. Just make sure the peas are closed and not split open, and go for bright-green color. Steer clear of yellow, damaged pods.
- Bell peppers – May to December. Peak from July through November. There is a theory that bell peppers have traits determined by having either three or four lobes on the bottom, with the former having fewer seeds and good for grilling. The latter is said to have more seeds and are sweeter. So experiment for yourself and let us know what you find!
- Tomatoes – June to November/December. Peak from July through September. Again, go for deeper, darker red color that are slightly plump but still mostly firm. The best tomatoes should smell sweet, so give them a quick whiff to get the best pick.
- Nectarines/Peaches – June through September for the most part, peaking in August and September. Choosing most stone fruit is relatively simple. Go for in-season fruit that gives just slightly. Avoid bruising. The best fruit will give off a strong sweetness in smell.
- Rhubarb – Can run throughout the year, peaking primarily in March and running through spring. Similar to celery, look for stalks that are firm and straight, with fresh non-wilted leaves.
Now that you’re primed for picking the right fruits and veggies, making the choice between organic and conventional can be a pricey one. With rising produce prices, it’s not always easy to remember what to comprise on. So here’s a quick list of what’s OK to eat conventionally with the least amount of pesticides. As with any fresh produce, be sure to wash them thoroughly.
OK to Eat Conventional
Avocado, Asparagus, Cabbage, Mushrooms, Grapefruit, Kiwi, Onions, Pineapple, Sweet Potatoes, Sweet Corn (make sure it’s non-GMO if that concerns you), Mango, Watermelon, and Grapefruit
Opt for Organic
Apples, Berries, Cherry Tomatoes, Celery, Grapes, Cucumber, Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Potatoes, Spinach, Kale, Bell Peppers, Squash