Fresh & frugal

It’s been too long since we have reminded readers abut the pleasures of local markets. Spring seems like a great time of the year to do so – when fresh produce is abundant and cheap.


Local markets radiate community spirit. Stalls are full of fresh fruit and vegetables. Buskers and friendly banter fill the air. Tables are attended by keen vendors with an eye for gold coins and crisp banknotes. Good natured shoppers are electrified with a sense of excitement over the prospect of buying healthy, guilt-free produce at good prices.


Add to that, other benefits squeezed in between the apple cucumbers and baby carrots – especially the opportunity to socialise and catch up on local chit-chat – and the whole experience is priceless.


The morning we visited our local growers’ market there was a greater selection of produce available than at the city’s largest supermarket. In particular, there was a huge range of organic produce and specialised items such as passionfruit and melon jam, gourmet oyster mushrooms, home cured bacon, specialist salami and cheeses, exotic dips and dunks. In fact, what was on offer was as diverse and as rich in character as the cottage industries from which they were produced!


If the local market happens to be one of the 25 markets that are members of Farmers’ Markets NZ Inc then it will be a “a food market where local growers, farmers and artisan food producers sell their wares directly to consumers. Vendors may only sell what they grow, farm, pickle, preserve, bake, smoke or catch themselves from within a defined local area”.


There are lots of other markets of course, and some call themselves growers’ markets. Each market is unique – and they tend to operate by different principles and rules, which makes them fun to visit. The differences usually relate to the extent to which stall holders can retail produce grown by others. Some growers’ markets for example will only allow stall holders to sell produce that they have grown or produced themselves.


But, however a market is organised, those with a frugal mind will always have a keen eye on prices. The theory is that by cutting out the middle men and women between the grower and the consumer the public will get quality produce at a great price.


To put the theory to the test we compared the price of 20 randomly selected items from a farmers’ market with the same items at the local no frills supermarket – the big yellow one with the cheapest everyday prices!


We found three of the farmers’ market items were exactly the same price as at the supermarket, nine items cost less at the farmers’ market than the supermarket, and eight items cost more. So is produce at the farmers’ market a bargain? The answer to that important question is an unequivocal ‘maybe’! Are there bargains to be found? Absolutely yes – but you will need to know how to spot a bargain.


As a general rule of thumb if you buy what’s in season and plan your meals around that, you should be buying right and making a dollar stretch to two.


But what is even better than buying seasonal produce from a growers’ or farmers’ market, is growing your own – nothing is cheaper or fresher than that!


Many markets offer more than fresh produce. Sometimes you will find all sorts of jumble through which one can rumble: books, CDs and even LPs, bric-a-brac, power-tools, and other bits and pieces and treasures.


There is always something of interest for the frugal at your local market!