If you've never been before, farmer's markets are a great place to get locally grown produce, fruits, eggs, and sometimes even breads, jams, crafts, and flowers. All of the markets in my area have at least a couple of organic farms that sell, and at a much lower cost than the grocery store prices. But really, even if you don't buy a single thing, they are fun to go to and walk around - much more festive than the grocery store and a very pleasant way to spend a morning.
Here are some of the tips that I've discovered to have a successful day at the market:
1) If you don't know of any in your area, check out www.localharvest.org. You can put in your zip code and find markets, CSAs (which is another way to get fresh, locally grown fruits and veggies), and retailers in your area.
2) Before you go to a market, see if you can find a list of the vendors online. If it's a smaller market, the vendors might alternate weeks, but for the bigger markets, I've found that they are usually pretty consistent. It's helpful ahead of time to scope out which farms are selling what, or what farms can offer organic veggies and fruits. It's also fun to see what kind of vendors are selling little crafts like soaps or baked goods. As a side note, the organic thing is a little tricky- I really don't think that any of the farms would lie about it, but apparently getting officially certified as organic is a very expensive process, and one that many of the small farms can't afford to undergo. So there's often really no proof that they are organic, but you have to check them out and if they seem legit, you have to just take them at their word.
3) Take your own bags. The reusable ones you can get from the grocery store for a dollar are perfect, or if you have a basket, that's great too. You'll also want to take cash, and smaller bills are the best bet.
4) Be friendly and chat with the folks at the stands. A lot of them are family members and work or live at the farm, and it's fun to get familiar with them. This is their livelihood and also their life, so they are insanely knowledgeable about their produce. They are usually more than happy to help show you how to tell if the particular fruit or veggie is ripe, or give some ideas on how to prepare or cook it. I've also had a few tell me that if I ever need a bulk amount of something, like tomatoes to make our own tomato sauce, I can tell them ahead of time and they can bring them the next week for me. We haven't taken them up on the offer yet, but I could see it being useful in the future if we do decide to try our hand at making our own sauce, or if I get into canning.
5) Take a list for your week's menus but also be adventurous. One thing that I mentioned to Steve that could be fun this summer is to go together, find the most random vegetables or fruits that we can find, and then we have to come home and make a meal out them.
Happy Spring, and Happy Shopping!