Summer is here, and fresh produce has flooded the aisles of supermarkets and grocery stores everywhere. But nothing beats the joy of browsing at a farmers’ market, surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of straight-from-the-farm vegetables and fruit, homemade cheese, preserves and jellies, even baked goods.

A great way to support the local community and economy, whether it is the agricultural, livestock or the dairy sector, these wonderful markets can also be the perfect opportunity to make the switch to healthy living. Buying produce that is fresh, most often organically grown, and with minimal or no processing, you are guaranteed food that’s wholesome and safe for the entire family.

We tell you how to navigate these exciting venues, engage with the community, eat healthier, and teach your children about the origins of their food.

  1. Prepare For The Experience
    Before you leave the house, ensure that you have enough cash in small bills. Carry several shopping bags that are reusable; it might also make sense to place a cooler in the car. Arrive early to get the best, freshest variety, but know that the best bargains are up for grabs just before closing time.
  2. Lose The List
    Forget about making a list because the biggest thrill of a farmers’ market is the chance of discovering unusual and heirloom produce. Be open to experimenting with new fruits and vegetables as a way to expand your cooking repertoire. Ever made pesto with arugula instead of basil? Now’s the time to try.
  3. Communicate Openly
    Grocery store and supermarket shopping has reduced the amount of interaction that was the norm in the old days, when you knew the people raising the food you ate. Farmers’ markets encourage you to engage with the folks tending to your food—they can teach you a lot about what it’s like to connect with the earth.
  4. Track Your Expenses
    Don’t be alarmed to note that produce grown organically, sustainably and in small numbers is going to be more expensive than mass produced, factory-processed fare. Ask the price before you pick items up, and remember that it’s better to indulge in a small amount of high-quality stuff than to buy tons of cheap, but inferior produce. Take solace in the fact that your money is supporting local farmers who get just 19 percent of every dollar spent on US-grown food, according to USDA estimates.
  5. Conduct A Taste Test
    Unlike supermarkets where everything is packaged, boxed and bottled, you can actually sample the goods at farmers’ markets, where stall owners will encourage you to stop, smell, and taste before you buy. The freshness of most produce is evident and there’s no need for chemicals, shrink wrap or freezing to expand their shelf life, the way it’s usually done in supermarkets.
  6. Educate Your Children
    This is the right place to teach your children about the origins of their food and its value, as opposed to them seeing their food arrive in paper, plastic or Styrofoam packages. They’re also more likely to eat more fruit and vegetables if they help pick them out themselves.
  7. Learn From Your Elders
    Grandparents can be invaluable sources of information on regular and even unusual fruit and vegetables, and how to pick, store and cook them. Their advice and involvement is crucial to building stronger family bonds, and a farmers’ market is a great place to experience the simple joys of interacting with others.
  8. Don’t Get Stuck On Labels
    Buying organic should not be the sole goal here, since a lot of farmers may not have the necessary certification. Even though they are unlikely to use chemical sprays or pesticides, getting certified as organic is an expensive and tiresome process they may not be willing to go through. When in doubt, simply ask the farmers about their farming practices and they will be happy to share that information.
  9. Stretch It To The Limit
    Buy a little more than you plan to use immediately, and then go ahead and pickle, jar or freeze the extras. These can later be added to baked dishes, salads, smoothies or cocktails. Jams and sauces are another great way to make foods last longer.
  10. Give Back To The Earth
    In what can only be described as coming full circle, the produce you buy should go to their rest in the soil. Peels, pits, shells and trimmings can be composted. The practice is known for preventing pollution, cleaning up contaminated soil, and reducing the need for fertilizer and pesticides.

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Simona is a journalist who has worked with several leading publications in India over the last 17 years, writing on lifestyle topics and the arts, besides interviewing celebrities. She made the switch to public relations and headed the division as PR Manager at ITC Hotels’ flagship property, the ITC Grand Chola, but has since returned to her first love, journalism. Now she writes on food, which she is sincerely passionate about and wellness, which she finds fascinating and full of surprises. When she isn’t writing, she is busy playing the role of co-founder and communications director of The Bicycle Project, a six-year-old charity initiative that empowers tribal children in rural areas, while addressing the issue of urban waste.