The farmers’ markets of Nashville — plentiful in options — are some of our favorite places to spend time in the summer. Browsing on a warm Sunday morning, iced coffee in hand, is an anticipated, meditative weekly ritual. But when it comes to actually shopping the market, here are some tips that will ensure your weekly trip is not just enjoyable, but productive. The chefs of Nashville are undoubtedly farmers’ market pros, so today, they share their recommendations and helpful hacks for conquering the farmers’ market.

Bookmark these tips for your next trip to the farmers’ market! Image: Nashville Farmers’ Market

Nashville Chefs’ Tips for Farmers’ Market Visits

Tony Galzin | Nicky’s Coal Fired

Chef Tony Galzin of Nicky’s Coal Fired in The Nations shares his three best tips. First, know what’s in season. “Sourcing produce at its peak of freshness is all about knowing what’s in season. Check out the Nashville Farmers’ Market website and find a Tennessee Seasonality Calendar (we found a good one here). Fresh vegetables in season this spring include baby greens (mizuna, arugula, lettuces) and baby roots (beets, turnips, carrots, radishes), asparagus and sprouts like pea shoots.”

Second, have recipes in mind when visiting the farmers’ market. “Whether it’s using pea shoots to make a bright pesto that goes with spaghetti alla chittarra, or baby sorrel mixed into a rich braised rabbit pasta, I blend my recipe ideas with the vegetables I know will be fresh and available.”

And third, talk to your farmer. “If you’re unsure about planning your visit, head to the market and interact with your farmers. They will always have good insight into what is coming up in the growing season and are likely happy to share recipes and tips for preparation at home.”

Daniel Gorman | Henley

At the helm Henley‘s kitchen, Daniel Gorman knows how to best utilize seasonal produce. His tips? Talk to the farmers, and taste when possible! He tells us, “The best part about the farmers’ market is the ability to talk with the people who grow the products you are shopping for, as well as the impeccable freshness that comes with buying things directly from the market.”

Sharing his own shopping process, he says, “My biggest tip when shopping at the farmers’ market is to take advantage of the face-to-face time with the farmer, catch a story and ask what their favorites are at the moment. Second, always taste the fresh produce before you buy it, if possible. Nothing will tell you more about what you are purchasing than the smell and taste of fresh produce (but don’t treat it like lunch at Costco).”

Brian Riggenbach | Mockingbird

Mockingbird‘s executive chef and partner Brian Riggenbach sources from farmers’ markets to create his inventive menu. He suggests going both early and often, continuing, “If you go early, you’ll get the best pick!” Once you’re there, talk to the farmers and ask them questions. Brian explains, “They grow the produce, so chances are, they know how to cook with it. If you’re unsure what to do, don’t be afraid to just ask!”

Finally, mix it up a little bit. Brian recommends, “Go to as many different farmers’ markets as you can. Different markets have different farmers and foods, so go to multiple markets and figure out what your favorites are.”

Karl Worley | Biscuit Love and ‘za

The owner of Biscuit Love and ‘za in Hillsboro Village knows the importance of fresh, tasty produce. He values the farmers and their growing process, using only produce grown in a healthy, clean way. He tells us, “Taste everything! Ask farmers how they grow their vegetables, and don’t be afraid to walk away if it’s not how you want to feed yourself and your family. Start developing relationships with the farmers there!”

Karl also recommends picking up resources that will inspire your produce-heavy meals. Don’t get stuck in the rut of having the same things over and over again. Instead, use cookbooks like Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden, Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables by Abra Berens, or any of the River Cottage cookbooks to find inspiration for your haul. He adds, “Cheers to feeding yourself and your family well!”

Pat Martin | Martin’s BBQ and Hugh-Baby’s

It’s no surprise that Pitmaster Pat Martin’s (Martin’s BBQ, Hugh-Baby’s) expert tips are all about tomatoes. He gives us the inside scoop. “Don’t be afraid to pick it up and feel it out. You want it to be bright and firm with no soft spots.” Furthermore, Pat says to actually look at the top of the tomato where it was cut from the vine. He says, “If you see that it’s split, that’s a good sign to me because it shows that they were sun-ripened in an actual garden and not in a greenhouse.”

And finally … “With tomatoes, sometimes the uglier, the better. The most delicious, homegrown tomatoes aren’t often the prettiest.” Amen!

We’re always looking for tips for the most delicious tomatoes.

Andy Little | Josephine

James Beard Award nominee and executive chef Andy Little of Josephine starts with one very important tip. “Buy things! I know this seems weird, but you’d be amazed at how many people I see just cruising the farmers’ market with nothing in their hands. I get it; the produce is beautiful, and hanging at the market is a great way to spend a morning, but I think it’s important to dedicate yourself to buying and cooking from the market.”

Instead of jumping into the next season preemptively, he recommends celebrating the season you’re currently in. “I know it’s easy to lust after the first sweet corn or tomatoes of the season but focus on the asparagus and peas that are in front of you. The tomatoes and corn will have their time. Cook as much as you can with what is abundantly available and let the new seasons come to you.”

Furthermore, visiting the market with regularity establishes important relationships with the farmers. “Make an effort to get to the market every week and engage with the people you are buying from.” And part of that relationship includes buying “surplus” items. “There is always going to be a point in time when your farmer friend has too much of something and needs to move it. Buy those things. If you help your farmer out, they’ll help you. You’ll be the first to get the best tomatoes or a little box of cherries. Suddenly, you’ll find that they have held back the ‘best’ stuff for you behind the table.”

Jeff Axline | Tavern at Bobby

The Tavern at Bobby‘s executive chef Jeff Axline values the high-quality ingredients of the farmers’ market, using them to create his delicious menu. He recommends entering the farmers’ market with a plan and a goal in mind. “Shop early. I usually arrive 30 minutes before the actual opening of the market. Scout out each stall and figure out a plan of attack.”

Then, he shares, shop with intention. “What do you want to cook or prepare? Don’t just buy items because they look pretty. Many times, we buy a bunch of stuff with lofty goals and end up with too much (myself included). If I am buying fruit, for example, peaches, I will get a couple that are ready to eat and pick out four or so more that are slightly harder or less ripe to eat a couple of days later.”

Most importantly, though, get to know who you are buying from. We have close relationships with several local farmers and ranchers. These relationships are crucial to making sure you are getting first dibs on the good stuff.”

Simoni Kigweba | Stay Golden

The executive chef of Stay Golden, Simoni Kigweba, echoes the importance of the farmers themselves. “Your greatest resource at the market is the farmer. Similar to a butcher, a farmer has a wealth of knowledge about seasonality, flavor profile and varietal information about your favorite fruits, vegetables and legumes. So please, next time you’re at the market, consider striking up a conversation with these incredible artisans.”

Second, he says, “Shop with intention. You should walk into a market as a steward. You are receiving the fruits of a lot of good, hard labor, and that should be shown in your basket. It’s also so much easier to make your way among the crowds when you know you’re looking for a specific list of vegetables, so try to come with a plan of what you would like to cook that evening.”

And his final pro tip that’s a good reminder for us all: “Bring your own reusable bag or container for your goodies.”

Joey Molteni | Hathorne

Hathorne‘s veggie-heavy menu means a strong emphasis on the fresh finds from the farmers’ market. Joey Molteni visits Richland Park Farmer’s Market every Saturday, just across the street from the restaurant.

He shares, “I’d say that the most important thing with summer vegetables is to follow your nose. You can tell the ripeness of a huge amount of fruits and vegetables by how fragrant they are. Tomatoes, onions, peaches, apples, berries, corns, summer squashes, peas, etc. For larger gourds or melons, you want to thump them with your knuckle and listen for a crisp resonance. If you thump it and there is a dull ‘thud’ sound, the melon or gourd is most likely no good.”

Explore all of the farmers’ markets that Nashville has to offer with our comprehensive guide here! Happy shopping!

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Looking for delicious recipes to use your fresh produce? Visit our archives here!