Your local farmers' market might be half a dozen tables set up for a few hours in a parking lot or a more permanent setup where many vendors gather in a building. But all farmers' markets are made up of local farmers who sell their produce directly to the public -- minus the middleman. You'll find vendors with booths stocked full of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy, cheese and eggs, herbs and flowers all raised and grown on the farm and very likely harvested within the last 24 hours. Some farmers' market associations -- each market has a group of stakeholders to oversee its rules and regulations -- also allow extras such as baked goods, honey, jams and jellies, maple syrup, cider, vinegar, plants and crafts.
Shopping at a farmers' market is good for you, your local farmers and your community. The locally grown fresh foods are often healthier than what you find in grocery stores, and you have the opportunity to get to know the faces behind the foods you eat. Want to know how the farmer keeps pests away or gets a higher yield? Ask him as you browse through his booth. Local farmers are happy to talk to you about their farming practices -- and maybe even share recipes.
Buying and selling at farmers' markets also helps your local economy and the environment. Buying foods from local farmers and businesses keeps revenues close to home and, in turn, provides jobs in the community. It allows farmers to earn fair prices for their products by eliminating additional processing, transportation and other middleman costs.
When farmers who are within a limited radius from your town sell you their foods, the miles your food travels before it arrives on your plate -- known as food miles -- are reduced. Farmers' markets also make a good venue for community education about nutrition, diet and food preparation.
The local foods at the farmers' market may or may not be organic. In a 2002 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey of 210 farmers' markets, 1,416 out of 4,681 participating farmers were organic growers [source: USDA]. Some small organic farms don't apply for organic certification because the cost of certification isn't financially possible for them. But you may find that a farmer's offerings are organic -- even though they don't carry the label -- when you ask about his or her growing practices. (For more information about local versus organic foods, read Is it better to buy local or organic food?)
Next, let's find out who sells their goods at farmers' markets. And what else can you do at a farmers' market other than buying produce?