Here’s what to look for when you go out shopping:
Eat fresh. You’ll find only in-season fruit and vegetables, rather than those flown in from around the world. That can mean no blackberries in the winter months, and also higher quality of what is available. Expect to taste the difference with produce so fresh sometimes it’s picked the same day.
Discover more. Farm stands are kicking it up a notch in recent years, selling local products including canned salsa, smoked jerky and baked fruit pies. Taking it one step further, the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York hosts a Cheese Trail introducing visitors to area cheese makers like Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery (www.fingerlakesdextercreamery.com). While you’re in the area also look for such items as honey, jams and jellies, and even pancake mix made from locally grown grain.
Ask and learn. Farm stand employees are a wealth of knowledge. Find a vegetable you’ve never eaten? Ask staff how to prepare it, and even what to serve with it.
Among the 940 farms in the Finger Lakes is Elderberry Pond Country Foods (www.elderberrypond.com), an organic farm, store and gourmet restaurant. Because they believe in eating from the land, they teach their customers how to do that, too. If you’re in town for only a few days, a market is the next best thing to a visitor’s bureau. Ask for directions and sightseeing suggestions. You’re likely to learn off-the-beaten-path ideas that will give you a better sense of the community.
Give. Farm markets not only help you plan better meals, and save the environment, but buying things made local means less travel for everyone involved. You can also find gift ideas for loved ones. Some offer local wine to sample and buy. In the Finger Lakes (www.tourcayuga.com), for example, markets often offer wine tastings from one of the more than 100 area wineries.
Also, look for homemade soap, sweaters and crafts made by local artisans. If you are an antique or art collector, markets sometimes carry items, or they’ll know of nearby locations to find something special.
The next time you’re in town or away from home with free time on your hands, consider a farm market for gifts, ideas and fresh, local produce.