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Support local food economies like farmers markets with a donation to Heifer International's USA Program.

Editor's note: The following guest post is by Angela Colley. With a background in mortgage and real estate, Angela Colley is a contributor for the website, Money Crashers Personal Finance. She is passionate about charity, green living and animal rights advocacy.

Stocking your kitchen with seasonal fruits, greens, brightly colored peppers and other organic goodies is a great feeling. Knowing you bought them from local farmers and helped keep them in business is an even better one. Shopping at a farmers market is a great way to support your local economy and make sure you're buying the healthiest produce around, but it's also a great way to save money.

Check out the following reasons you should be shopping at a farmers market:

1. Support Your Local Economy and Farmers
Grocery chains source their produce from big farms all over the world. When you buy from them, your money is supporting other economies. When you buy from a farmers market, however, your money goes directly into the hands of the farmer who grew the produce. That farmer likely lives in your area and spends that money on local businesses as well, creating a cycle that strengthens your local economy.

farmers markets table A table at a farmers market in Hughes, Arkansas. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

2. Fight Pollution
It may not seem obvious, but grocery store chains contribute heavily to pollution. A group from Iowa State University studied the travel patterns of 28 fruits and vegetables that ended up on grocery store shelves. On average, the produce traveled 1,518 miles, wasting precious fossil fuels and contributing to air pollution. On the flip side, the group found that locally sourced produce traveled only 44.6 miles.

3. Fresher Produce
Grocery stores typically harvest their produce before it's ripe and go to great lengths to keep it fresh longer in the store, meaning what you bring home may not be ripe for several more days. At a farmers market, you're likely to find organic, untreated, and ripe fruits and vegetables you can enjoy right there in the market, or on the walk home like I do.

grapes
Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

4. Variety
Local farmers markets can have a lot more variety than the small produce section of major chain grocery stores. For example, my grocery store sells Roma and cherry tomatoes, but I can find heirloom tomatoes, vine-ripened cherry tomatoes and Creole tomatoes at my local farmers market. Since the produce at the farmers market is seasonal, I also find different varieties throughout the year.

5. Cheaper Eats
Grocery stores buy from farms that need to make a profit, and they also need to make a profit themselves after paying for their substantial overhead (and, between the two are transportation and possibly other businesses requiring a share). Unfortunately, these costs get passed on to you. Unless you can find that rare sale - which usually means food is about to spoil - you're going to pay more at a chain store. Farmers, on the other hand, don't have middle men or significant overhead, so they can offer their products for less money. Bottom line, you save money by shopping direct.

6. Comparison Shop
At larger farmers markets you're likely to find several farms selling the same product. And while it may be tempting to buy the first pint of strawberries you see by the door, you can save yourself money by doing a little comparison shopping. Do a quick sweep of the entire market and see who's selling the same produce, judge its quality, and compare prices are before you buy.

7. Browse in Bad Weather
When it's sunny and 72, farmers markets are overflowing with customers. For the farmers, this means big business. When it's cold, raining or too windy, however, fewer people venture out, giving the farmers less business. Many farmers post sales to keep from having to haul their produce back at the end of a slow day. This can be a great time to score a deal.

8. Shop at the End of the Day
The same principle applies to the end of the day. In the morning, produce stands are usually stocked and getting dozens of customers, but as the day wears on, business dies down and farmers are faced with either hauling their produce back to the farm and risk it spoiling, or selling it now at a discount. I've gotten great deals by shopping at the end of the day.

farmers market produce Photo courtesy of Heifer International

9. Build Relationships
Even though a new farmers market opened closer to my house, I still shop at the one I've been visiting for years. Why? Because I've spent time building relationships with the local vendors. They hold the last batch of blueberries for me, offer me special discounts, and I was even once invited to tour a farm. While there's no reason you can't go to every farmers market in your area, it pays to build a customer relationship with your favorite vendors.

Final Thoughts
Farmers markets do a lot for the environment and your local economy, plus the produce on offer is healthier and tastier than what you can buy at a grocery store. There's simply no good reason not to shop at a farmers market, so find one in your area, shop smartly, save money, and start cooking great meals with fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables today.

Have you found great deals at farmers markets? Tell us in the comments section below.

Author

Brooke Edwards

Brooke Edwards is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and started working at Heifer International in 2009 as a writer. She has a master's in social work and a bachelor's degree in psychology. She is married, a mother of two, and a wannabe urban farmer, raising her own chickens and killing most of her vegetable crops.