By Joan Schipper

Buying fresh, locally sourced produce in just the amount you need reduces food and packaging waste. Your nearby Certified Farmers Market (CFM) is a great place to start.  From the Los Angeles County Certified Farmers Markets website:

About Farmers Markets.  The term “certified” used in the phrase “Certified Farmers’ Markets” means that the produce is brought to the market straight from the farm, either by the farmer personally, a family member, or by an employee. Only California grown produce may be certified.

Not all outdoor markets are CFMs. Some are for-profit ventures, organized to bring produce from the wholesale produce market downtown. Many of the same CFM advantages will apply, but the goods will not come straight from the farm.

Shopping a CFM means that, without the middleman, more of your grocery dollars go into the farmers’ pockets. To be sure, you will find less variety without imported goods (like Chilean peaches in December). But your seasonal fruits and vegetables will be fresher and unlikely to be treated for preservation or cosmetics.

At a CFM, you can choose just as much as you want from organic and sustainable produce offerings, and pack it in your own reusable bags. You might also find local bread, eggs, meats, flowers, and plants. One of my favorite farmers brings olive oil, olives, and vinegars. For shopping-day convenience, most markets host a variety of ready-to-eat foods or prepared ingredients.

An unexpected benefit of shopping at the smaller neighborhood farmers market is the social aspect. You’ll meet neighbors, as well as farmers’ representatives, and maybe trade produce-selection advice, menu ideas, recipes, and cooking techniques. Many markets feature a roster of local musicians; bring your pals and stop for coffee and a croissant, or a tamale, after shopping.

So, how do you get started shopping locally?  The best way to get started is to check the LA County Certified Farmers Markets Website, where you can search by location or browse by community name.

It may take some time to find your favorite market and, if you are lucky, there will be a number of them within your personal “shopping zone.” Explore a few and figure out whether you like a small, nearby market or a large, varied market.  Are you interested in the prepared food and other merchandise offered at large markets? Are the community programs (health expos, pie- or pickle-making contests, agency fairs) engaging? Do the kids love a petting zoo with alpacas, ducks, pot-belly pigs and bunnies?

When you arrive at a market, explore a little before you start buying. The vendors’ offerings will change from week to week as the seasons progress. Browse first to see who has the cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, or squash you prefer. You might find some deals like “soft” tomatoes or “ugly” pears.

Consider bringing paper, mesh, or used plastic bags for each kind of produce, and remember to bring your carry-all, tote, basket, or market cart to manage your purchases. You’ll be amazed at the variety of carts and wagons shoppers employ to haul their goods up and down the market. Happy and sustainable shopping!

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Joan Schipper retired early on the Hiking-is-My-Retirement-Plan. On weekends, she leads hikes with the Central Group (Newcomers Hikes and White Cane hikes) but loves her weekday hikes with friends in the San Gabriel Mountains. The only thing she values more than hiking is camping.