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Tips to help you shop at the market, plus recipes.

Visit the Agriculture Marketing Service Website for a listing of markets all over the country.

Find out what's in season now in your region.

Farmer's Market

Fresh as it Gets — A Guide to Shopping at Farmer's Markets

Many of us dream of growing our own food—stepping out the back door to pick ripe, plump strawberries for dessert or tender French beans to sauté or armfuls of tomatoes to make fresh gazpacho with. For those of us, however, whose lives have taken a more urban bent or who simply don't have time to tend a garden, buying produce from farmer's markets might be the next best thing.

Farmer's markets are springing up all over the country, increasing in number by 56 percent in the last four years alone. While some larger markets maintain websites and may include bakers, cheese makers, or other specialty food producers in addition to fruits and vegetables, others consist of little more than two stalls in a town parking lot with a cardboard sign for advertising.

But whatever the size of the market, they all offer delicious seasonal produce grown by local farmers at reasonable prices.

Fun and Festive

"Consumers are looking for fresher and better-tasting produce," says David Webber from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. "If you live in an urban area, farmer's markets are a way to eat really fresh produce. Going to the market is also a really fun and festive atmosphere in which to shop."

Be sure to take the kids with you. Farmer's markets are fantastic places to learn about food.

"My kids grew up in the city and never knew that carrots had tops or that zucchini had blossoms until they visited an outdoor market," says FoodFit founder and CEO Ellen Haas in her book Great Adventures in Food.

Forget about a firm shopping list, Haas advises. Instead, be open to the terrific treasures you find. It's better to plan menus after you've seen what looks good. Peruse the market to see which stalls have the best-looking produce and the best prices. Then let everyone in the family pick out their favorite fruits and vegetables.

Many farmers experiment with heirloom varieties, which, unlike hybrid seeds, were developed for taste rather than appearance or shelf life and may sport unusual colorings and surprising shapes. But don't let that put you off — what the fruit or vegetable might lack in conventional appearance is probably more than made up for in taste.

Growing a Community

"I look forward to the farmer's market every week," says Odette Binder, a potter in Somerville, Massachusetts, who buys all the produce for her family at the farmer's market. "I love knowing that what I feed my family and friends not only tastes good, but is also good for them. It's great to support local farmers and to feel part of the community."

Jacquelyn Scott, a marketer from Full Bloom Market Gardens in North Amherst, Massachusetts, concurs: "It's fun to be in contact with the people who are buying your food, rather than just delivering it to the grocery store and never meeting anyone."

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  • Don't be shy. Farmers usually eat what they grow and they may have some interesting suggestions for ways you can prepare their produce, particularly the more unusual varieties.
  • Make sure it's a real farmer's market, selling local produce. Talk to the growers and ask them where their farms are located. If they're selling bags of apples in June and acorn squash in July, there's more than a sporting chance that the produce is actually imported and no fresher than the supermarket.
  • Think about bringing a cooler, particularly on a hot day. Even the freshest of produce can wilt in the car or subway in the heat, but if you stow it in a cooler its shelf life should be a week or so longer than its supermarket counterpart.

FoodFit Farmer's Market Recipes:

Arugula Saute with Garlic and Olive Oil
Zucchini and Tomato Tart
Penne with Summer Squash, Zucchini and Sugar Snap Peas
Roasted Beets, Greens and Goat Cheese with Pine Nut Vinaigrette
Roasted Parslied New Potatoes
Relish Tray

By Ruth Prince

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