Farmers Market Meals On a Budget

During the summer months, farmer’s markets are the perfect place to find inspiration for dinner. I visited the Tuesday’s Lane County Farmers Market in downtown Eugene with a mission of making a vegetarian dinner for four for $20 or less. I found a bounty of flavorful items to choose from, and made selections from Groundworks Organics, Sweet Leaf Farms, Horton Road Organics, and Eugene City Bakery.

I always recommend an exploratory loop when visiting a market to get a feel for prices and quality, especially if you don’t have a pre-existing relationship with a farmer. First I picked up a bunch of heirloom tomatoes from Groundworks Organics. I asked a woman about her favorite way to eat them, sparking a conversation between us and a third employee. Caprese salad and tomato sandwiches were mentioned, but the final gem was when she mentioned hearing that some people like to cut up cucumbers, garlic, feta, and tomatoes and dip bread into the mixture. I zeroed in on this idea and decided to make panzanella.

An Italian salad made of stale bread, panzanella has all the flavors of summer. Kalamata olives or capers can be added, or if vegetarian isn’t your thing, the salad also welcomes grilled chicken or salmon. I decided to add a salad of spicy greens and tender radishes to the dish to round it out. I picked up three cucumbers (buy two, get one free) and baby pink radishes from Sweet Leaf Farms, a loaf of emmenthaler Swiss and red onion sourdough from Eugene City Bakery, and a spicy lettuce mix from Horton Road Organics. I had olive oil, garlic, lemon, and basil at home, causing my grand total for the trip to be $16.80. However, basil was $2 a bunch while garlic ran about .90 cents a head, and if purchased I still would have remained within my budget.

Shopping List:
Heirloom tomatoes, $3.99 per pound: $6.80
Sourdough: $5
Cucumbers, $1 per, or buy two get one free: $2
Radishes: $1.75 per bunch
Spicy greens, $3.50 per 1/2 pound: $1.25
Market Total = $16.80

Pantry Items:
1 lemon
3 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small onion (I used a Rossa di Milano I had gotten from an earlier market)
1 small bunch basil leaves
Feta cheese (optional)

This hearty vegetarian salad satisfied everyone at the table, and made for a colorful and delightful summer dinner together. Click here for the recipe and try it for yourself!

What Farmers Market meals have you created on a budget?

Jackie Varriano is a Eugene-based writer having a love affair with summer tomatoes. Keep up with her at


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