(BPT) - Warm weather months bring an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, and for those who enjoy buying local, farmers markets are popular destinations. Produce choices available at farmers markets are now reaching their peak. So how can you make the most of this seasonal bounty?
Chef Daniel Reyes, culinary faculty member at The Art Institute of California - Inland Empire, a campus of Argosy University, believes that it's important to know the difference between buzz words common at markets. 'If you have questions about how farmers do something, they are more than happy to talk to you and educate you about sustainable and organic farming,' he says.
Reyes explains that while some produce may look unfamiliar, a good market salesperson will provide tips on how to use the items. Farmers markets are not just great places to buy, they're also great places to learn new culinary techniques and food pairings.
Another tip? Shop early - that's when chefs at are the markets. 'Chefs are usually there early in the morning. See what they are buying,' says Reyes. And remember to bring bags to carry your items home - cooler bags are especially helpful when you're buying delicate goods such as locally made cheeses, eggs or meats.
A sense of community
Farmers markets allow people to gather in a common place to meet neighbors and make friends who share a passion for locally grown food. The markets build a sense of community, according to Reyes, that contributes to a stronger local economy and smaller environmental footprint.
'Get to know your purveyors. See where they come from,' Reyes advocates.
This sentiment is shared by Chef Elizabeth Thompson, culinary arts faculty member at The Art Institute of California - Inland Empire. Thompson recommends asking farmers what's best to buy right now.
'They grow whatever they sell, which makes them experts. Ask to put be put on their email list. They may send out information about what is in season and what to do with it,' she adds.
Thompson makes it a point to try something new each time she visits a farmers market. 'Sample everything! That is how the farmers sell their products, and you will know what you like.'
CSA - Community Supported Agriculture
In addition to visiting the farmers market, many people are choosing to become CSA shareholders, paying in advance for weekly boxes of produce.
CSAs create a direct relationship between farmer and consumer, according to Thompson. CSAs allow busy people to pick up their share boxes at a convenient location, and teach them how to use what's inside.
For those interested in supporting local farmers, CSAs provide a critical influx of cash to farmers during the off season, helping them to better prepare for the planting season ahead.
Whether shopping weekly at the farmers market or picking up a CSA box of fresh produce, buying local allows consumers to taste fruit and vegetables at their peak flavor. From striped heirloom tomatoes to strawberries picked fresh just hours before, farm fresh foods provide a burst of flavor and a connection to the community that cannot be found within a large supermarket.