Spring has sprung, indeed. 

One of the perks of the season that most excites me is exploring my local farmers’ market. I can’t help but be overly excited about fresh fruit and vegetables, the aroma of seasonings and spices, discovering unexpected jams, jellies, breads, pastas and hearing the vendors’ personalities and stories. I almost always want to buy one of EVERYTHING. Woo sah, sho’nuff.

It’s remarkably easy to become overwhelmed but I’ve worked out a manageable plan that’s easy on the wallet and ensures a unique (but productive) shopping experience.

1. Search the schedules of your local markets.  Though it varies from city to city, you’ll often find farmer’s markets that are open for shopping from five to seven days per week.  As to ensure the freshest inventory and to reduce waste, farmers, dairies, florists and bread makers will often maintain a more consistent presence. Purveyors of gourmet items such as sauces, specialty desserts and beverages mostly hit the scene for long weekends. Some vendors appear at a variety of markets; ensure that you are on their e-mail lists and follow their social media accounts to keep abreast of their offerings and whereabouts.

2. To the degree that you can, generate a shopping list that coincides with your weekly meal plan and you will waste less time.

3. Dress comfortably. Until we get closer to summer, light layers and shoes made for walking are recommended.

4. Bring your own shopping bags. Ensure that your bags are sturdy and it does not hurt if they are fashionable. A variety of sizes is recommended

5. Go early. As the day grows longer, pickings become more slim.

6. Hit the ATM.  Though some vendors accept credit/debit cards on-site, most do not. Ensure that you have enough cash for the items on your shopping list AND a little more for delightful bites that you did not anticipate.

7. And on that note? Eat a snack before you head the farmer’s market. The delightful culinary fragrances will kick your olfactory system into overdrive and your wallet in the red if you are SWH (Shopping While Hungry). That said, save room for sampling.

8. One of the greatest benefits of your shopping experience will be the food artisans, farmers, bakers and chefs. Get to know them. Find out their history. Put a name and/or face with the purchases you’ll enjoy. Everyone has a story.

9. Farmer’s market outings make for great pre-brunch activities and dates.  With a little research, you can find one (or several) in your area. Before long you’ll realize just how exciting buying and eating locally can be.

Are you a fixture on your local farmer’s market circuit? Where do you live? Which are some of your favorites?

Shameeka Ayers is an Atlanta-based lifestyle blogger and author who dispenses entertaining, shelter and food & wine anecdotes and advice via her alter ego, The Broke Socialite. She also produces a national tour of curated dessert-tasting experiences, Sugar Coma Events™.  Her first novella, Instantly: How Quickly I Realized I Hate My Job will be published in 2012.