How to navigate a farmers marketThe recent demand for local and organic produce has resulted in a growing number of farmers' markets popping up in local communities. The following tips can keep you from becoming overwhelmed as you peruse the stands at a new or established farmer's market and wonder exactly how to start and what questions to ask.

  1. Take a spin. Before you buy anything, walk the entire farmers market at least once to see what's available and where everything is located. Often times, farmers and vendors will be at the same location every week so you can go right to your favorites the next time and know which stands are selling what.
  2. Get to know them. Ask the person behind the table if they're the farmer or work with the farmer who grew the produce. Ask how far the food traveled to get to the market, when it was harvested, and if it was grown using conventional or organic methods. Also find out if you can visit the farm (even if you have no intention of visiting). Transparency is a sign that a farm's methods can be considered trustworthy.
  3. Bring cash. Smaller farms that harvest and sell on the same day usually keep it simple, meaning employees accept cash or check only. If a booth accepts credit or debit cards, ask when the food was harvested and from where. But bring plenty of cash to be able to buy the fruits and veggies that you need.
  4. BYOB. Bring your own bags. Don't clutter up landfills with more plastic. Bring your own reusable shopping bags or boxes to carry purchased produce and also bring your own produce bags if you can. You can also bring a cooler on wheels to store produce and eliminate bags altogether.
  5. Buy the ugly stuff. Unlike conventionally-grown produce, organic produce isn't put through a chemical wash n' wax and can appear dusted with soil, dull or slightly blemished. A little bit of dirt is a great sign that it was grown with care.
  6. Shop early, shop late. You'll find the best selection of produce when the market first opens, but you'll find the best deals just before close. A vendor's goal is to sell everything, so when you visit a market later in the day, you might just be able to negotiate that kind of deal you want.
  7. Bring the kids. Studies show that when kids are more involved in shopping for the foods they eat, they have a better appetite, are more willing to try new foods and develop healthier eating habits. Give each child (and adult) their own produce bag to fill with new or favorite foods.
  8. Don't go overboard. Freshly-picked produce, especially organic, lasts only a few days. Avoid buying more than your family can eat in five days.

For recipes and tips on how to cook with your fresh produce, visit Chef2Chef's recipe page.