Going to the farmer’s market is a great way to shop for fresh ingredients and support your local economy. It also gives you the opportunity to get out into the community and engage with resident growers and creators.

Whether you’re a seasoned farmer’s market patron or new to the scene and looking to get more familiar, you can maximize your farmer’s market experience using these helpful tips.

1. Learn what’s in season

Your farmer’s market will most likely carry what’s in season locally, so it’s best to do some research into what might be available and plan your shopping accordingly (see tip #2 for meal planning advice).

Here are a few seasonal produce guides to give you a head start:

Spring fruits

Fall produce

2. Plan meals ahead of time

Planning out the meals you’ll be shopping for and preparing a list of groceries will help keep you on track at the farmer’s market. You’re less likely to come home with bags full of ingredients you don’t need, wondering what to do with that rouge rutabaga you just bought.

Although meal planning helps keep a trip to the market on track, there will inevitably be times when you buy more than you can eat. To extend the life of your fruits and vegetables in those cases, try these 12 tricks for keeping produce fresher for longer.

For more tips on food preservation: 10 Helpful Tips for Canning

3. Time your shopping

Depending on what’s important to you, decide whether to time your shopping trip with the opening of the farmer’s market or with the end. To get your pick of the crop, (literally!) you may want to consider arriving early. If you go at the end of the day, there will be a smaller selection, but goods are often discounted and vendors may be more willing to bargain with you.

4. Come prepared

Don’t forget your reusable bag! Booths usually give small bags just large enough to hold the produce you purchase from them, and some might not give bags at all! It’s better to be safe than sorry and end up trying to juggle a handful of lemons while simultaneously shopping for a squash. Consider also bringing a cooler bag in case you decide to purchase more perishable goods like meat or cheese, and maybe even a wagon or foldable cart if you’re planning a large haul.

It’s also important to bring cash, including small change, as many vendors take cash only and may not have much change on hand.

5. Survey the grounds for the best deals

Do a lap before making any purchases. There will be multiple vendors selling the same things and you’re bound to find variety in price. You’ll thank yourself later when you find those tomatoes you were eyeing for a couple bucks cheaper at a few booth spaces down.

6. Talk to the booth vendors

The staff working at the booths are the gurus of their goods. If you have questions about how the produce was grown, whether or not it’s organic, what ingredients were used, or just about anything else you can think of, they’ll likely have the answers!

Pro tip: Just because something is being sold by a local grower at the farmer’s market, doesn’t automatically make it organic. They’ll often post signs if they have organic certification, but if you’re unsure, ask!

7. Be respectful

Above all, be respectful of your fellow shoppers, the farmers and vendors, and their goods! Farmer’s markets can get pretty busy, so it’s important to be conscientious of your surroundings. Like we said, it’s nice to be able to talk to the growers themselves, but if the booth is particularly busy, come back later to swap recipes rather than holding up the next sale.

Handle the goods with care. If you’re unsure about the ripeness of a piece of fruit, ask the vendor rather than pressing and squeezing it erratically and potentially damaging the fruit.

Bonus tip: If you’re not sure whether or not the vendor is offering samples, just ask! As masters of their craft, farmers are often eager to cut you a slice so you can try the produce before you buy.

If you’re looking to broaden your horizons, the farmer’s market is a great place to discover and learn about new foods! Try lots of samples, and if you’re feeling adventurous, make it your goal to bring home one new thing from the market each time you go. If you have questions about how to prepare an item, ask the vendor- they’re experts on what they’re selling and will likely have tips for you!

For creative new ideas on how to use produce in your cooking, try: Creative and Delicious Ways to Eat More Veggies