California is the most agriculturally diverse state in the nation which makes for a mouth-watering array of fresh summer fruits and vegetables. If you’re not growing your own, one of the next coolest options is to visit a farmers market. Once a relatively limited concept, farmers markets are now popping up all over the state. The number of farmers markets in California has grown from just a few to hundreds in the Southland alone. That makes it highly likely there’s one or more near you. From fresh orange juice made from locally grown Valencia’s and navels to favored honey to brightly colored heirloom tomatoes, local farmers markets offer a healthy way to engage food and support Southern California farmers.
Farmers markets are constantly offering new items. You’ll notice that a trip in May looks vastly different than a visit in November, which isn’t always true at grocery stores. Depending upon what is in season locally, the produce selection varies each month. For example, you’ll find strawberries, asparagus, and rhubarb in the spring and later in the year, corn, pumpkins, and apples will take center stage.
As an added bonus, many markets now include people selling cheese, jams, honey, baked goods, and even artwork and crafts. It’s a great place not only to plan menus, but to pick up gifts, all while supporting your local community. With rows of vendors and sometimes unfamiliar produce though, farmers markets can seem overwhelming at times. Here are a few tips to help you discover and enjoy: 1. Bring Supplies: Start with plenty of tote bags to carry your haul. Not only is that better for the environment, sometimes the farmers do not have a large supply of plastic or paper bags to help you out. 2. Take Your Time & Look Around: Farmers markets can tempt you into buying too much food, since everything looks so fresh! Before you buy, take a stroll around, check out the vendors, make mental notes of prices and get a feel for what looks best. 3. Ask Questions: Don’t know what a particular vegetable or fruit is? You’re probably standing face to face with someone who can offer helpful hints. Not only do most farmers know exactly how their crops are grown, many can also tell you additional information like which of their cherries are sour and which ones will hold up best to heat. 4. Enjoy Samples: Not sure you prefer endive, romaine, or arugula in a salad, testing them out in a farmers market is a great way to decide. 5. Be Adventurous: On each trip, find a new cheese, variety of basil, or breed of tomatoes and buy it. Broadening your food horizons will make preparing meals more fun.
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