With a little preparation, you can get the most out of your local market.
Step 1: Make a shopping list of produce that's in season, so that you have a guide as you shop the stalls.
TIP: Search online or in cookbooks to come up with a few ideas for meals you can make with what you expect to find.
Step 2: If you want the best selection, get there early. But if you'd rather score a deal, arrive late. Farmers don't like to head home with extra inventory, so they often offer discounts as closing time approaches.
TIP: The same vendors often sell at several markets in the same city or county, scaling prices based on the affluence of the neighborhood.
Step 3: Don't come to the farmers market hungry – you're more likely to impulse buy. Buy a snack at the market before you start shopping, if you're starving.
Step 4: Walk around the whole market once without buying anything, so you can compare prices and quality. Often, a few vegetables and fruits will dominate, but their quality and prices can vary widely from vendor to vendor. Adjust your shopping list based on what is available.
Step 5: Make a second tour of the market, picking up whatever you've decided on.
TIP: If you see produce you're interested in, but are hesitant to buy it because you're not sure how to prepare it, ask the vendor for cooking tips.
Step 6: If you have a favorite fruit or vegetable that will be in season soon, ask a few of the vendors when they're expecting their crop and whether they think this will be a good year for it. The more abundant the item, the less you can expect to pay for it.
TIP: If you're feeding a large family, ask farmers about buying in bulk to save money.
Step 7: Hurry home so you can make a mouthwatering meal with all that farm-fresh produce!
FACT: Sales by farmers directly to household consumers rose 49 percent from 2002 to 2007.