New USDA Search Tool Helps You Find A Farmers Market Near You

Are you looking for a farmers market in Missoula, Montana that sells both eggs and cut flowers? How about one in Birmingham, Alabama that accepts food stamps? Or one to visit while on vacation in Sitka, Alaska?

The government is here to help. The U.S. Department of Agriculture just launched a great new section on its website that lets you search a national directory of farmers markets to find exactly the one you're looking for.

The site lets you search for farmers markets by location, available products, accepted payments and even, bizarrely, the type of location. This last option will surely be a boon to those with a strict policy of only patronizing farmers markets located in religious institutions or closed-off streets.

The USDA actually made some of this data available to developers last May, so the Apple App Store already contains a few apps that can help you find a local farmers market. And a site called Local Harvest has long collected and shared its own list of farmers markets, small farms and CSAs.

But the USDA's new search tool is fast and user-friendly, and is closer to the source of information than any of these other contenders.

It's also a powerful sign of how far the farmers market movement has come in recent years. Not so long ago, farmers markets were rare enough -- at least outside affluent pockets of California -- that there would have been no point in looking for a very specific type of farmers market, or one in a very specific place. If you even knew about the joys of farmers market shopping, you would take what you could get.

Now, though, USDA data shows that more than 8,200 farmers markets are operating across the country -- enough that you really do need an app or a website to sift through them all.

Don't Hassle The Farmer About Price
Flickr: Will Merydith
Yes, eggs, milk, and produce are more expensive than at the supermarket. But where else can you get just-laid eggs with bright-orange yolks, milk capped with cream, and vegetables that go beyond garden variety? What's more, the taste is exponentially better. So don't hassle the farmer about price. Photo via Flickr user Will Merydith
Don't Squeeze!
Flickr: Phil Roeder
We all want beautiful corn, tomatoes, and peaches, but that doesn't give you the right to shuck, squeeze, and poke every single one in search of perfection. Photo via Flickr user Phil Roeder
Bring Reusable Bags
Flickr: Caitlinator
When it comes to plastic, let me just say: Bring your own %*!)@ bags. Photo via Flickr user Caitlinator
Pets?
Flickr: eblaser
Leave the dog at home. Photo via Flickr user eblaser
Special Requests
Flickr: clayirving
Unless it grows in your region, don't expect to find it at your local market. Of course, if you live in California, you can ask for anything... Photo via Flickr user clayirving
Experiment!
Flickr: bhamsandwich
Each visit, buy one ingredient you're unfamiliar with -- perhaps garlic scapes, fava beans, or pattypan squash. It'll make you a better cook. Photo via Flickr user bhamsandwich
Timing
Flickr: NCinDC
To shop like a chef, go right when the market opens. You'll have your pick of produce. Bargain hunters go 30 minutes before closing, when many stands offer discounts. Photo via Flickr user NCinDC
Free Samples
Adam T'Koy
I love free tastes of peaches, too, but they're samples, not meals. Leave some for others.
Explore!
Flickr: Edsel L
If you're new to a market, walk around before buying: You might find a better selection a few booths away. After you've shopped there a few times, get to know your farmers: Not only will you get cooking advice, you'll feel more connected to your food. Photo via Flickr user Edsel L
Payment
Flickr: JSmith Photo
Want to be a farmer's best friend? Bring small bills and change. Photo via Flickr user JSmith Photo