Four years ago, back when Josh and I lived in Vermont, I wanted to make applesauce. Lots of applesauce. A freezer full of applesauce.
I was on an applesauce making kick, wanting to keep us stocked all winter.
I did a bunch of research on no and low spray apple farms near us, and called one up to see if they'd offer up a discount for bulk purchases.
They said they'd offer dropped apples for half price, so we headed there, filled up a half bushel bag of drops, bought some fresh ones to eat too, and went back home to cook.
Recently I mentioned that it's poor farmers' market etiquette to ask farmers for a discount. Farming is hard work, and often comes with a low paycheck, so it's not very polite to bargain or ask for a percentage off.
A lot of people complain to me about how local food is so expensive. Why would they buy apples at the farmers' market when they can buy them at the supermarket for less?
There is one exception, when you can almost always get local food at a great price: seconds.
WHAT ARE SECONDS?
Usually customers want to buy the most beautiful produce, like perfectly round tomatoes, or apples without dings or bruises.
Then there are seconds.
Also called drops or culls, seconds are the pieces of fruit that have fallen on the ground. They're the not perfect looking fruit that are hard to sell.
Oftentimes a farmer will sell off these seconds at a discount, wanting to make some money instead of having to compost or throw this food away. It's a win win for everyone — the customer gets a better price, and the farmer gets a little extra cash.
WHAT TO DO WITH SECONDS
Seconds are for cooking. Only cooking.
Think about apples that have wormholes. (I know, gross, right?) You don't want to eat them raw, but making a batch of applesauce or apple butter, or baking a pie or crisp or crumble is the perfect way to use these apples. Heat kills the germs, and you get lots of yummy food for a good price.
Tomatoes go the same way. If seconds are for sale, you can make canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, or salsa. Anything that cooks the tomatoes works well with seconds. Just chop off the bruises or moldy parts, and you're good to go.
Last year my favorite little farm stand had a sign posted at the end of tomato season. Tomato seconds were being sold for cheap, and the farmer's phone number was listed on the stand. I almost bought a bushel full, but was nearing the end of pregnancy and didn't know if I'd cook everything up in time.
This year, I know better, and if tomato seconds are on offer again, you know that I'll be buying lots to make tomato sauce for winter.
If you find yourself at a farm, farmers' market, or farm stand with seconds for sale, and you have the time to process the food, take advantage of the prices and cook something.
HOW TO SOURCE SECONDS
1| Pick your own farms
Find a few pick your own farms in your area and give them a call or ask when you arrive if they offer seconds at a reduced rate, and see what they have to say. Many pick your own farms have this built into their pricing; many don't.
Pick your own works well for this, since you're the one who's going to do the work, and these farms are used to having customers out in the fields.
Try this for apples, pears, peaches, plums, and berries.
2 | Farmers' markets
Now in this case, you're not asking for a discount on farmers' market produce. You're asking if they have seconds they could bring in for you to buy, and see what they say.
When I ran farmers' markets in New York City, I arranged with one farm to bring in a whole lot of tomato seconds. I bought a case full, and brought them home to make a boatload of sauce.
3 | Local farm stands
As I mentioned earlier, our little town farm stand had a sign last year offering bushels of tomatoes for cheap. The farmers who run it are often out, busy filling the stand with more veggies, so later this season I plan to do a big batch of sauce to store in the freezer.
WHEN: End of season
It's best to wait until towards the end of the season to ask about seconds. A lot of the time farmers have a bulk of produce to sell off before a frost or before a season ends.
But you can always ask a farmer earlier in the season to see if they sell seconds, and go from there.
HOW: Just ask.
I can be shy and quiet sometimes, but I always feel like it's better to just ask and know, than not ask and wonder.
The worst a farmer will do is say no, or their pricing will be higher than what you're willing to pay. And that's okay. Just politely say no, and ask someone else. If you're on an applesauce mission like I was four years ago, you're bound to find someone with apples at a good price.
You just have to daydream about a freezer full of delicious food this winter. :)
Do you buy seconds? If so, what have you bought, and what have you made?