March in New Jersey…the month where we long to put away the slow cooker soups and stews and begin to crave everything that is vibrant and fresh. After a cold, dark winter, the words “First Day of Spring” on the calendar were a most welcome sight! And although we have seen a decent number of mild days so far, this month has also had its share of cold—COLD—days.

Even though spring has sprung, we are still months away from the succulent strawberries, tender salad greens, and sweet English peas that we long for. What’s a foodie to do?

Here’s what: Head out to a farmers market. The winter farmers markets are still going strong and feature the best of what is grown locally and in season right now. Try these tips for a successful farmers market experience.

Keys to Farmers Market Success in Any Season

  • Be flexible. When you are shopping at a farmers market, the biggest key to success is to stay flexible with your meal plan. I am a meal planner and weekly prepper. By Wednesday, I usually have the following week’s meals planned and a shopping list written. But since there is no surefire way to predict what each stand at the market will have, it’s important to plan meals that can easily adapt to swaps and substitutions. If you have your heart set on something that a particular spot is known for, I suggest you call or message the farm on their social media to see if shopping ahead is available or if they can hold something for you.
  • Arrive early. An early arrival promises the best selection, but don’t get there before the market opens.
  • Bring small bills. Although many stands take debit cards or Venmo, you may find that you need cash for some stands. Small bills are important as they will prevent you from wiping someone out if they don’t have a lot of change.
  • Bring your own bags. If you’re not already doing this, there’s no better time than now to start.
  • Don’t forget breakfast! Going to a farmers market on an empty stomach can be even worse than going to the supermarket hungry. If doing so is unavoidable, though, many markets have breakfast stands or food trucks. Try these if you need to fuel up, and you’ll be supporting a local business.

Game Plan

For my winter market road trip I choose two markets, within in a reasonable distance of one another, to ensure the most variety in my purchases. I made a short list of my priorities and must-haves. While this step of the planning process is helpful for staying on track, impulse purchases are inevitable and part of the fun!

West Windsor Community Winter Market

My first stop of the day was the West Windsor Winter Community Market, which is held twice a month through April. Operating from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the market is set up outside. It was quite cold and windy the day I planned my shopping excursion, but I still had plenty of vendors to choose from.

My first stop was Bobolink Dairy. After reading about their small-batch cheeses, handmade charcuterie, and freshly baked breads, I was eager to try them for myself. I tried a few samples, and then happily purchased their cider-washed Amram cheese and a chunk of blue cheese, as well as fresh-baked apple biscuits and cheese biscuits.

My next stop was Jeff’s Organic Produce (pictured at top), where everything looked bright, fresh, and beautiful. I loaded my bag up with rainbow chard, celery, rutabagas, and finger radishes. After that it was Griggstown Farm for a few famously delicious chicken pot pies, which are an easy dinner to stash in the freezer and keep on hand for busy nights.

From there I stopped by and chatted with the purveyor of Two River Mushroom Co., who is in the process of setting up a larger facility, but currently cultivates his mushrooms in a shipping-container-turned-farm. I just could not resist a large variety basket of mixed exotic mushrooms including oyster, lion’s mane, shiitake and cinnamon cap. 

Beechtree Farms was my final stop of the day for a few thick-cut chops from pasture-raised pork.

Trenton Farmers Market

Touted the longest running farmers market in New Jersey, the Trenton Farmers Market is an indoor market held every week, from Thursday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Inside, you will find a variety of farms, shops, vendors, and lunch counters to browse and choose from for your purchases.

I did a little advance research and knew that my first stop would be The Pie’d Piper. On busy days they run out of their famous handmade pork roll and cheese pierogi before noon. Luckily, I managed to snag one of the few remaining containers. If you are not quite that adventurous, their pierogi also come in over a dozen savory varieties, plus a few sweet and fruit-filled selections as well. While I was waiting for my order, I was pulled in by the allure of the bakery case and added a coconut cream doughnut to my bag. Both were excellent choices.

With my main mission accomplished, I took my time looking around the rest of the market. I followed my list and was able to find chicken and mozzarella sausages, cracked pepper bacon, and boneless chicken from Cartlidge’s Meats of Lancaster, a basket of apples and sweet potatoes from Russo’s Farm, a fresh artisan boule and a lemon coconut loaf from Terra Momo Bread Company, and a bottle of wine from Terhune Orchards. At this point my bags were overflowing!

Not to be overlooked are the Trenton Farmers Market lunch counters. Selections include plant-based fare at both The Lady and the Shallot and Savory Leaf Cafe, mouthwatering smoked BBQ platters and sides at the Hambone Opera, and single-origin roasted coffee and breakfast sandwiches at Kafé Ojala. You’ll most definitely find something for every craving. 

Overall, my farmers market road trip was a great success. I was able to create many meals for the week using my market purchases. Numerous other winter markets throughout New Jersey that operate on a weekly or monthly schedule. I plan to venture out to a few more before the flowers are in bloom. I hope you will be inspired to grab your market bags, brave whatever Mother Nature throws our way, and support NJ farms!

NJ Winter Farmers Markets

Denville Farmers Market
Sundays through April 24
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Hunterdon Land Trust’s Winter Farmers Market
Sunday, April 3, and Sunday, May 1
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Jersey City Historic Downtown Farmers Market
Thursdays through April 21
4 p.m. to 6 p.m. 

Montclair Farmers Market 
8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Princeton Winter Farmers Market
Thursday, March 31, Thursday, April 14, and Thursday, April 28
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

Ramsey Farmers Market
Sundays through April 10
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Sparta Farmers Market Winter Nomad Tailgate
Saturday, April 2, and Saturday, April 23, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Stangl Factory Market
9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Stockton Farmers Market 
Friday through Sunday
See website for vendor hours

Trenton Farmers Market
Thursday through Saturday
9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

West Windsor Community Farmers Market
Saturday, April 2, and Saturday, April 16
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.