4 Tips for shopping at farmers markets

May 16, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. ET

With farmers markets starting up again across the country, here's a primer for the uninitiated on how to get the most out of this shopping experience.

Farmers market

The warm weather has foodies rejoicing. Why? Because it means the return of farmers markets! This is your chance to indulge in some fresh, locally grown produce. Here are some tips on how to navigate the market like a pro and make the most of your farmers market shopping trip.

Bring a reusable grocery bag

Be kind to the environment and bring a reusable tote bag to carry all your purchases in. In fact, bring an extra bag, because you will probably be so inspired by what you find at the market that you'll end up buying more than you originally set out to purchase.

Plan to arrive early

When it comes to farmers markets, the early bird gets the best produce, so set that alarm clock to get you up! Arriving at the market early means you can avoid the crowds (and the lines), peruse each stand at your leisure and have more opportunity to chat with the sellers if you want to learn more about where the food comes from, whether it's organic, etc.

Be open-minded

Because this is produce from local farmers that's as fresh as can be and much less treated or processed than other produce that's travelled from a distance, the veggies may have a little dirt on them, and the fruit might not gleam like those in a big grocery store.

Buy what you can eat within a reasonable time frame

You may be so awed by the abundance of fresh produce that before you know it, your basket is overflowing. But since local produce is picked and sold at its optimal ripeness, it needs to be eaten promptly. Also, since this produce is less treated (unlike other produce that's been picked, processed and trucked to you from halfway around the world), it will go bad more quickly than the fruits and vegetables you buy at a commercial supermarket. With this in mind, let the wares inspire you, but be smart about what you buy. If nothing else, buying smaller quantities gives you a reason to return to the farmers market again!

More on food

4 Ways to make your fruits and veggies last longer
It's time for spring fruits and vegetables
4 Ways not to gain weight on vacation