Farmers Market Shopping Tips From Chefs

How to ace your next trip to the farmers' market

April is Homegrown Month at Tasting Table.

Ah, the farmers' market. Bastion of locavore ideals, playground for chefs and a prime people-watching destination, all rolled into one. Meandering the market isn't exactly rocket science, but advanced shoppers know there's more to winning the market than showing up with a cute tote bag. Here's how to ace your next visit.

Take a lap: Sprawling markets can be overwhelming. Before you buy anything, scope the scene, checking out who's selling what, how they grew/harvested/caught it, how much it costs and how good it looks/tastes (more on that in a minute). Once you have the lay of the land, you can get down to business (business being shopping).

Get weird: Sure, that kale is looking rather handsome today. But you're not the only one who thinks so, and besides, don't you think it's time to mix things up a little? There's a whole wide world of fruits and vegetables out there, and sometimes the weirdest looking ones, often neglected by superficial shoppers, offer the biggest rewards. If you see someone picking up a gnarly looking radish thing, don't be shy—ask what it is (kohlrabi) and what they're planning on doing with it (shaving it raw into a salad, perhaps). "I've made lots of market friends this way," Liz Carollo of GrowNYC says.

Shop like a chef: Chefs often angle for the kinds of ingredients that home cooks pass by. "In the early spring, many vegetables start to blossom, which a lot of people throw away, but some of those flowers taste amazing," Travis Swikard, executive chef of Boulud Sud in New York, says. "Carrot, spring onion and shallot flowers are some of my favorites."

Try before you buy: "When you're walking through the market, taste everything. Eat the whole plant, from root to green. Use your palate to understand each ingredient," Swikard suggests. And remember, your grocery list is not written in stone—part of the pleasure of shopping at a farmers' market is being open to the possibility that you may taste something so unexpectedly delicious that you can't walk away without it.

Get online: Many markets and individual farmers are active on social media, posting updates on what's coming in and going out in a given week. Ask the farmers or market managers for their handles and follow along for real-time updates on how many ramps are left.