A trip to the farmers’ market is more than just picking up some items on your shopping list – it can be educational, entertaining, and simply good for the body, mind and soul. For some it represents culinary adventure; for others it’s about supporting the local agricultural economy and social justice; for everyone it’s a chance to feel part of a community and to simply enjoy fresh food that tastes great.

From fresh fruits and berries, vegetables and salad greens to milk and eggs, cheeses, meats and fish, maple syrup, baked goods, pickles and preserves, the list goes on and on.

Most local farmers markets have a website and/or Facebook page – an easy way to keep abreast of their vendors’ seasonal offerings, as well as special events such as live music, story time or even visiting farm animals.

According to the Maine Farmers Market Federation (MFFM), which serves as a great resource for growers and producers as well as the public, there are about 115 summer markets as well as nearly three dozen winter markets in Maine. Any day of the week, all over the state, Mainers and visitors can enjoy locally grown, fresh-picked or gathered, delicious food. Many Mainers are already incorporating farmers markets into their food shopping, aware of when and where to find them and planning menus and food shopping accordingly. Those headed to camps and cottages, or even just setting out on a day trip, can plan their itinerary to include a rewarding stop at one or more farmers’ markets.

On the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets’ website (www.mainefarmersmarkets.org) it’s easy to find farmers markets by location or by day of the week, across Maine. And their “What’s in Season?” section helps consumers plan according to nature’s “schedule,” suggesting what is likely to be found at Maine markets as the season progresses.

The MFFM also lists a number of Maine markets where efforts are being made to enhance access for low income community members, such as those accepting federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

Additional incentives, such as ‘Maine Harvest Bucks,’ can make it possible for qualifying consumers to stretch their benefits even further, receiving bonus healthy fresh fruits and vegetables, while also supporting local agriculture.

Many loyal farmers market shoppers whose incomes are above the eligibility criteria feel good that by choosing to shop here they are also helping to sustain efforts addressing food insecurity, such as the senior farm share and after-market gleaning.

There is also the satisfaction of knowing where your food comes from – often right down the road or the next town over—and how it was grown. In this era of concerns about pesticides and methods sometimes used by corporate growers and producers, not to mention the carbon footprint of food transported across the country, there is tremendous peace of mind in being able to have a conversation with the individual who is personally responsible for and knowledgeable about the food on your family’s table.

One of the best reasons to check out Maine farmers markets? It’s fun. And delicious. In addition to familiar finds, from apples to zucchini, at their peak of seasonal perfection, shoppers may also discover more unusual items such as kohlrabi or tatsoi; and unrivaled flavors from heritage and heirloom fruit and vegetable varieties. And the farmers are more than happy to share tips on selection, storage and preparation, even swapping a recipe or two. The Maine Farmers’ Market Shoppers page on Facebook is a great resource for finding additional recipes and information – or sharing your own.