I love going to farmers’ markets this time of year. There is something just so “healthy” and inspiring about browsing through all the colorful home-grown produce, fragrant bouquets of wildflowers, and other products hand-crafted by my neighbors. The experience itself is at once chaotic and intimate as people stroll from booth to booth, admiring the vendors’ offerings and then bartering for their purchases in the manner of Old World merchants. Often held in rustic open air markets, the festival-like atmosphere of most farmers’ markets provides a unique opportunity in this country to truly connect the food we eat with the people who produce it.

The value of buying from a farmers’ market goes beyond the ambiance and energy, however. Locally grown produce is generally closer to organic than commercial products, requiring less chemicals to preserve products between harvest and consumption. Also, produce and products sold at local markets generally have a lower carbon footprint than those that are grown and transported across the country. (Made in America, anyone?) And fresh foods that are purchased and consumed closer to the time of harvest generally retain more of their nutrients than their world traveling counterparts.

The best part of visiting a farmers’ market, however, is the variety and uniqueness of products available. In addition to the endless selection of fruits and vegetables, check out this list of items I recently saw in our county’s Saturday market:

  • Low-acid tomatoes – Great to try if you don’t want to grow your own.
  • Locally produced organic honey  – A natural, anti-allergenic food for people with local pollen allergies
  • “Compassionately” farmed meat and poultry products  – Organic and free-range options available.
  • Delicious homemade cheeses – No preservatives or artificial colors!
  • Fancy and simple handcrafted pasta – Both fresh and dried.
  • Savory and sweet baked goods – I dare you to resist the samples!
  • Handmade toys, crafts, and even furniture – The kids were enjoying the old-fashioned yo-yos–at least as long as they were away from their electronics!
  • Homespun yarns and unique textiles including clothing and quilts – Great for people who are sensitive to fabric dyes and additives.
  • Organic soaps, laundry powders, shampoos, perfumes, and lotions – Made without preservatives and artificial chemicals for people with sensitive skin.

Has it been awhile since you have visited an open-air farmers’ market? Not sure where to go? Plug your zip code into the search engine at Local Harvest (http://www.localharvest.org/) and see what you find. We even bought an organic Christmas tree last year!

So, no more excuses. Get out there this week. Enjoy the sights, smells, and tastes of your local farmers’ markets. Support your neighbors. And, prepare to be inspired to cook some amazing foods with locally grown, in season foods. Bon Appetit!