One of the best places to find local produce? A farmers market. Here are 13 ideas for your next visit.

Come prepared:

farmers market
(Photo: Swami Stream / Flickr)

1. Keep an inexpensive cooler in the car, complete with bags of ice cubes or large frozen blocks of ice.

2. Have a big bucket half-filled with water in the car to keep flowers fresh.

3. Bring your own tote bags to the market. Recycle individual plastic bags by bringing them with you and asking vendors to use them.

Scope out the market:

farmers market
(Photo: Phillip / Flickr)

4. Don't buy anything until you've walked the entire market to see what's there. This is the time to stroll leisurely, enjoy the light, the sights and seeing friends.

5. Talk to the farmers. Find out who they are and what exactly they grow. Build relationships; everyone benefits from them.

Look for organic growers and support them if at all possible. Their work helps the environment, besides often giving us safer and better-tasting food. If you're curious about what it takes to raise organic foods, these are the people who are usually delighted to answer your questions.

6. Try new foods. Every week buy one thing you've never had before. Ask the farmer the best way to enjoy it. This way you may find you love the burgers from the dairy woman, or the fresh kohlrabi in mustardy dressing.

Find the best:

tomatoes
(Photo: patrickkuhl / Flickr)

7. Always ask for a taste and offer to pay for it. Buying one tomato may save you from putting up with a bushel of tasteless ones. Don't assume that because the food is fresh and local, it's going to be wonderful.

8. Know when it was picked. With foods such as corn and peas that can lose their appealing sugars quickly, always ask when they were picked. Store them in the refrigerator.

9. Know that often the prettiest peach or apple may not be the tastiest, but if anything is bruised, wilted or tired-looking, don't buy it.

With peaches and apricots, once the area around the stem is no longer green, the fruit is ready for picking. A few days at room temperature will soften them slightly and bring them to good flavor. The darker the yellow portion of a peach, usually the sweeter it is.

10. Size isn't everything. Often the smaller ear of corn, zucchini or green bean is sweeter. Remember, pickling cucumbers can be delicious eaten raw. They often have distinctive, especially appealing character.

11. Compare prices. The best buy might be down the next row.

Once you get home:

Farmers Market Pasta
Recipe: Farmers Market Pasta (Photo: Ellen Silverman)

12. Store everything green in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Always keep tomatoes, garlic, onions, peaches, nectarines and apricots at room temperature. [More on keeping food fresh.]

13. If you have completely lost your head and bought far more than you need, invite friends to a cook-it-yourself farmers market party. Have everyone bring an apron and a knife, and make it an evening of cooking together. Just keep the dishes simple -- with the gorgeous flavors of just-harvested foods, you don't need to do much. Make sure to have some good bread, iced tea and maybe wine. These are usually the best parties.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper

Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.