People often want to eat seasonally and locally but think they can't afford it. There's much to say about the social/political reasons for this, but I'll leave that for another day... Today I want to talk a bit about buying "seconds" and buying in bulk, which are great ways to save money and get real bounty from your farmers market.
What are "Seconds?"
Sometimes these items will have labels suggesting what to do with them (i.e. "sauce tomatoes" or "jam peaches"), but don't let the signs limit you. these aren't the only things you can make with seconds. They're often perfectly good to eat raw or in any recipe once bad bits have been cut off.
Common items to get as seconds include stone fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines...), tomatoes, apples, and other fragile produce.
Usually seconds are for sale by-the-box (or basket or bag) for a discounted rate. You can't buy one bruised tomato, but you can buy 20 pounds of them.
Some vendors will put out bags or baskets of seconds, while others will just keep them behind the scenes. It's always worth asking, particularly toward the end of markets when roughly-handled or over-ripe produce has been pulled from the display and is sitting in a box in the back.
What do I do with them?
It's important to take seconds home and process them right away. The moisture from bruises or splits in damaged food can spread and quickly ruin your whole haul.
When I buy seconds, I take them home, run them under some cold water, and get to work. Usually this mean standing at the counter with a cutting board, a box of seconds, a dish for cleaned produce, and a bowl for compost. One-by-one I work my way through the produce, cutting off the bad bits and keeping the rest.
Even vendors who aren't selling seconds will sometimes give deals when customers buy in bulk. Talk to vendors about buying a half-bushel of peaches and see what kind of deal they might cut. Some farmers will ask customers who want bulk items to let them know a a bit ahead of time. This is great, as it lets you make a plan what you're going to do with all those peaches!
Not all markets are created equal
When you're trying to be cost-savvy, it's worth remembering that farmers markets, just like any store, are different in different places. Within a given city, you can have some markets with sky-high prices, and others -- even on the same day -- with much lower prices.
The prices are adjusted based on what people at the market can pay, so expensive neighborhoods often boast more expensive produce.
Some vendors will charge different amounts at different markets where they sell, based on the ability of the area customers to pay.
Farmers aren't adjusting these prices to be difficult or scam customers. They're trying to make a living in a really tough industry, and that means walking a fine line that keeps healthy, local food affordable while allowing farmers to profit and survive.