10 Ways to Stretch Your Food Budget at the Farmers Market | CUESA

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May 13, 2022

10 Ways to Stretch Your Food Budget at the Farmers Market

May is CalFresh Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about ways to make fresh, nutritious food affordable and accessible for all. CalFresh is California’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a vital federal food security program that helps millions of Americans access nutritious food. Since the pandemic, CalFresh usage has nearly tripled at Foodwise farmers markets, as more families are looking for ways to stretch their food dollars while supporting local farms and caring for their families’ health and the planet. 

Whether you’re on a tight food budget or just seeking ways to shop more efficiently, there are many ways to save money and make the most of your farmers market purchases. With a little preparation and strategy, the farmers market will reward you with the most flavorful and nutritious selection of local produce and pantry goods, grown locally and sustainably, at an accessible cost. 

Before you shop

1. Take stock of what you have. Checking what you have to work with in your fridge, freezer, and pantry before you go to the farmers market can help you to avoid making redundant purchases. You can also use what you have on hand to guide your decisions for what to buy. 

2. Prepare ahead by meal planning. Try planning a few meals for the week and coming up with a shopping list of what you need, based on what you have on hand. Get inspired by what’s in season, and you might pick out a couple seasonal recipes in advance. If you have kids, help them plan meals with you. Ask for suggestions on what they would like to eat, and engage them in conversation about how food gets to their plate. Getting their input will help you save money and reduce food waste (more on this below).

3. Set your budget. With an idea of what you want to buy and how much you plan to spend, you can avoid impulse purchases and prioritize the items you came for, while still building in allowance for that fresh find or sweet treat you spot at the farmers market.  

At the farmers market

4. Utilize CalFresh benefits, and double them with Market Match. Most California farmers markets accept CalFresh (SNAP/EBT) and other supplemental nutrition benefits such as WIC. Many markets, including Foodwise’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and Mission Community Market, will even double your benefits through the Market Match program. Market Match helps make farm-fresh, locally grown foods more affordable by matching CalFresh benefits dollar-for-dollar, with tokens that can be redeemed for fruits and vegetables from any farm in the market. At Foodwise farmers markets, the match is $15 per customer per market day, so if you shop at all four Foodwise farmers markets, Market Match can provide up to an additional $60 per week to spend on fresh produce at the market.

5. Take a lap and see what’s in season. What you find at the farmers market changes every week based on what’s in season at local farms. Not only does produce that’s in season taste better, it is also more likely to be in abundance and may sometimes be priced lower than items that are in not at their peak and in shorter supply.

6. Keep an eye out for good deals. Some farmers offer opportunities to save when you purchase more than one item, such as special deals when you mix and match vegetable bunches, or discounts on produce items that are cosmetically challenged but otherwise still good to eat.

7. Stock up on basics. In her cookbook Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day, Leanne Brown shares ideas on how to feed yourself healthfully on the average SNAP budget: “Versatile ingredients like flour, pasta, garlic, and lemon have countless applications. Beans and rice store well, are inexpensive, and have high nutritional content.” Stock up on shelf-stable staple items like beans and rice to add heartiness, protein, and nutrition to your seasonal produce finds.

8. Consider the Dirty Dozen when buying organic. If you are wondering which produce items to prioritize when buying organic, health and parenting coach and author of My Food Stamps Cookbook Rachel Bolden-Kramer suggests, “If you can’t always buy certified organic, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen to see which conventional produce items have the most or least pesticides.” For example, conventionally grown strawberries, greens, and other fruit rank high in terms of pesticide use, while avocados and sweet corn are low on the list.

Make the most of your food purchases

9. Get wise about preventing food waste. Proper food storage can keep produce fresher for significantly longer. Most vegetables should be stored in the fridge in closed containers and washed just before eating. For quick-to-wilt leafy greens, try storing them with a paper towel to collect extra moisture and change it every few days. You can find more tips to avoid food waste here , and learn to recognize when food has gone bad vs. when it’s still edible here. If you have kids, help them prevent food waste with these resources: Easy Tips to Reduce Food Waste in the Lunch Box , Reducing Food Waste (video), and How to 19 Ways to Prevent Food Waste with Kids.

10. Cook creatively. Don’t toss those beet greens, cauliflower leaves, lemon skins, or broccoli stalks. Many fruit or vegetable parts typically assumed to be trash are not only edible but also nutritious and delicious! Carrot tops can be used in place of parsley, while fava bean pods can be grilled and eaten along with the beans. Find more tips in Tara Duggan’s Root to Stalk Cooking.

Visit the CUESA Info Booth to learn about CalFresh and Market Match

About CUESA

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to growing thriving communities through the power and joy of local food. Learn More »