The unofficial start of summer is just around the corner, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve always found this time of year to be especially exciting as there’s always so much to look forward to from vacations and longer days to my personal favorite, farmer's markets!

After a six-month hiatus, my local farmer’s market is back in action and bursting with vibrant fruits and vegetables that haven’t been readily available since this time last year. I find there’s nothing quite like arriving at the market just as it’s opening to leisurely stroll amongst the stalls, chat with farmers about their wares, and take it all in. Often during these walks, I am delighted to discover and bring home new-to-me foods I can experiment with in the kitchen. As much as I love farmers markets, they can be a little bit overwhelming. To avoid coming home with a bag full of unrelated items you aren’t sure how to use, I’ve outlined a few tips that can help you confidently navigate markets all summer long.

· Plan ahead: The best way to have a successful farmers market experience is to plan ahead. How might you do that? Learn what’s in season in your area and prepare a meal plan around items you will likely find. While every area is different with seasonal items unique to the grower’s geography, you can get a good sense of what’s in season by doing a quick search of seasonable produce online.

· Don’t be afraid to try something new! Building a rough meal plan for the week can certainly help you cut down on food waste but don’t be afraid to try new things or bring home a few foods you may not have anticipated finding during your trip. Those zucchini flowers or berries may not be available during your next visit!

· Talk to farmers: If you’ve spotted a new-to-you food, ask the farmer or vendor about it, they can give you an idea of how to best enjoy the item, and if you’re lucky you might even get to try a sample of the food.

· Know when to go: If you visit early, you will have the best selection of items to choose from before they sell out. However, if you’re after a good deal, plan your visit towards the end of the market as often (but not always) vendors discount prices at the end of the day.

· Enjoy whole foods: Farmers market produce is often minimally processed, at the peak of freshness, and often has a bit more than you’d get at the grocery store. Grocery stores often remove edible parts from fruits and vegetables that are worth learning how to use. After a good wash, carrot tops can be made into a delicious pesto and beet greens can be braised, added to a salad, soup, or risotto. Get creative!

· Bring Bags: Vendors often have flimsy bags that if overfilled, can break easily. To avoid dropping any of your finds, consider bringing some sturdy bags that you can fill without worrying they will break.

If you’ve yet to make it to a market this year, I encourage you to find a farmer’s market in your area and visit! Armed with these tips, you’re sure to enjoy summer produce all season long.