08/27/2013 12:14 EDT | Updated 10/27/2013 05:12 EDT

How to Get the Most Out of Your Local Farmer's Markets

It should be known that I love farmer's markets. I love the atmosphere they create; all the produce and hand-made goods lined up on tables in wooded or cardboard baskets. Everyone attending can take in what real food looks, feels, and smells like (from our own backyards!). I love finding soil caked onto the sides of root veggies and I love seeing evidence of wildlife on my food (to me that signifies that the food isn't toxic). It reminds me of a simpler time when it was expected of us to grow and create the things we need for our daily lives.

Nostalgia aside, have you checked out your local farmer's market? Hopefully you have! Going to farmer's markets can be an overwhelming experience, especially if you're used to the orderly fashion of super markets. Farmer's markets are normally busy and non-linear. That is to say, you won't find everything of a certain category in one place like you would at a grocery store. Every vendor has some things that are the same as others and some that are not. So what should you focus on? First of all, if you find something new, try it! The benefit of going to farmer's markets is that you can ask the farmer directly about the products. They will be able to tell you all about your new find, how to prepare it, where exactly it came from and when it's in peak season. You can also ask about the growing methods -- what pesticides were used, if any? When was it harvested?

There are some pretty cool things that you can find at a farmer's market that you might not find (easily) anywhere else:

  • Bee pollen, especially local bee pollen, is a treat that you can usually find at the farmer's market. Bee pollen is the granules of packed plant pollen that worker bees collect through the day and drop into their hives. Bee pollen can be used in smoothies, cereals or salads and is known for its amazing antihistamine effects. Bee pollen is also an immune boosting superfood.
  • Artisan breads can also be found at the farmer's market. If you have a specific request, allergy, or food intolerance and require specialty-baked goods, this is the place for you! You will be able to talk directly to the baker, or someone who knows a lot about the baking process, at the market. You can make special requests to have baked goods created for you, or you can inquire directly about which products suit your needs. You will also find a variety of bread options that you might not encounter at the grocery store including sprouted bread, or bread made with different types of grains.
  • Local berries are typically in abundance during the summer months any basket you grab will taste delicious. There really isn't anything like a tiny, yet juicy raspberry, blueberry or even cherry from your local grower. They are bursting with flavour and will boost any breakfast smoothie or make the perfect snack for a picnic.
  • Celeriac, beets & carrots and other root veggies are almost always present at farmer's markets. This is something you might be inclined to try if you haven't before. Celeriac for instance may be something to try. It is a tasty and healthy root vegetable that is crisp and tastes sort of like a celery and potato combination. The beets and carrots that you get from the market taste remarkably sweet and fresh. They are like no other!

Apart from food, there are all kinds of handcrafted items to be purchased at farmer's markets. Two of my favorites are beeswax candles and natural soap. Beeswax candles are expensive at retail stores and often contain paraffin or soy fillers, which can actually make the air toxic rather than pure and smelling good. The beeswax candles that you normally find at farmer's market are pure beeswax created from local bees! Moreover, soap can also be made from beeswax.

You may not do all of your shopping at the farmer's market, but it's definitely a fun place to check out during the summer months. Better yet, check them out all year long.