Luminous pyramids of apples and pears are mounded precariously atop a rough hewn wooden table. Nearby, delicate stalks of asparagus, thin as my pinky finger, stand tall, bound in bundles next to the sleek, firm piles of baby zucchini and yellow squash. At a neighboring stand, bouquets of sunflowers and asters propped in buckets command attention. The aroma of freshly baked bread wafts down the aisle as I stop at each stand to check out the uncommon fruits and vegetables each has to offer and to chat with the farmer about her wares.
Yes, shopping at one of the 2,500 farmers' markets in the United States is an enriching experience. The produce is as fresh as can be—usually picked within 24 hours of when you buy it—and tastier than you'll find in a supermarket because it can ripen on the vine, not in a truck on its way to you from a far-off farm. Also, many organic farmers sell their crops at farmer's markets. And buying directly from the farmer supports the local economy and helps to preserve open spaces in your community.
Each market has its own eclectic array of offerings and distinctive atmosphere. For the best selection at a farmer's market, shop early in the morning. Make the rounds each time you visit to see who has what, and bring your basket or canvas bag. And if you won't be going straight home, bring a cooler to keep your purchases fresh.
More: Get farm-fresh food from your backyard! Here are the 7 secrets to growing your own vegetables.
They are sociable places where regulars are often known by name. The festive atmosphere at many farmers' markets recalls an earlier time when the local market was a neighborhood gathering place. Below you'll see some links to help you find a market near you and to immerse yourself in the sounds, smells, and textures of your local farmers' market.
You can also tap into your local organic food sources through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms and food co-ops. All three options actively build a sense of community, encourage stewardship of the land, and eliminate costly long-distance distribution systems. They deliver produce from field to table often within hours, as opposed to the days or even weeks supermarket produce may spend in transit. And they keep food dollars in the local economy.
Find a Farmers' Market Near You
USDA farmer's market directory
At the U.S. Department of Agriculture's web site, you can click on "farmers markets" and then on "find a farmers market in your state." This will take you to a map of the USA from which you can access a lengthy list of farmers' markets for each state including the U.S. Virgin Islands. How's that for comprehensive?
In the section "Farm Fresh Markets" you can search by state for farmers' markets near you. Whether you live in New York City, Baton Rouge, or Anchorage, there are markets closer than you may think just brimming with fresh local produce for your table.
If there isn't a market close to you, order online. Visit this site for a direct link to producers. It offers Produce, Health & Beauty, Meat & Fish, as well as Crafts & Gifts, Farm & Garden Supply items and more. Have your purchases delivered to your door.
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Northeast Organic Farming Association
The NOFA Website has a list of certified organic farms in each state in the Northeast. It is conveniently broken down by county so you can quickly and conveniently locate a local source of organic produce. Pennsylvania residents, look under New Jersey where there are several PA farms listed.
Farmers' Markets in Ontario
If you live in or plan to visit Ontario stop by the Farmers' Markets Ontario website. This easy to navigate site provides information on the more than 100 farmers' markets in the region.
Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association
If you live in the San Francisco Bay area, check out the Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association for 60 certified farmers' markets. This site includes a list of local organic farmers and where and when to pick up their produce.
Southland Farmers' Market Association
Another option for Californians is to stop by the Southland Farmers' Market Association homepage where you can request a directory of its member markets.
For New York State residents this site offers a fabulous variety of gourmet foods from cheeses to organic produce to organic free range poultries and natural and organic meats. You can call ahead with your order and it will be waiting for you.
Punch up a roast chicken with garden-fresh herbs. Try this recipe tonight!