Know before you go: metro Atlanta farmers markets guide

Once trendy and scattered, farmers markets have become a common staple in neighborhoods across metro Atlanta. More than 35 farmers markets dot metro area maps, each offering handcrafted bites, locally grown produce and some seriously delicious grub.

New to the market? Don't breeze through. Take time to explore the great food, friendly faces and talented farmers, chefs and artists beneath the canopies. Here's what you need to know to help you navigate the markets' best offerings:

Arrive early

High demand seasonal produce, like the summer's best heirloom tomatoes and the tastiest baked goods, are often the first to disappear. By mid-morning, some of the market's best has been purchased and picked over, so arrive as early as possible for the best selection.

Since you're early, grab a fresh baked pastry and a fresh brewed coffee or tea to enjoy while you shop. Or in warmer months, grab a cold-pressed juice or smoothie to beat the summer heat while you wander the market.

Pre-market research

Follow your favorite farmers online to preview what they'll be bringing to the market. Also check the market's schedule for each week's vendors and special programs; some markets feature live entertainment, chef's demos and seasonal events.

Shop adventurously

Many farmers take pride in offering rare, unconventional or heirloom varieties of everyday vegetables and fruits. Heirloom tomatoes, for example, grow in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes, many with a unique flavor profile. Sample a variety: you'll be surprised at the flavor spectrum delivered by purple heirloom tomatoes (often smoky and rich) versus the green, yellow and white varieties (often bright, citrusy and tangy).

Buy something each week that you haven't tried before, like an "ugly" vegetable: some of the most delicious produce grows in unusual shapes and colors. Many of these unusual varieties have been grown for decades and prized for their flavor (unlike some supermarket varieties, often grown for shelf life and uniform appearance).

Like the many heirloom vegetables at the markets, many vendors offer unique baked goods, eggs, meats, cheeses and sauces that are a rare find in the supermarket. Try something new and shop adventurously: while handcrafted and heirloom might look different from their supermarket counterparts, they're often rich with flavor and texture that you won't find in most stores.Ask and listen

Most farmers are passionate about their produce, about their farm and about delivering exceptionally tasty, fresh food each week. Talk to them, and ask what's new this week. Ask them about the can't-miss vegetable that's in peak season, and ask if they're offering samples for taste. Get to know the people and families who grow your food, and get to know each farm's specialties. They'll likely get to know you, too – and some vendors save top quality customer favorites for their regulars.

Visit a variety

While nothing beats a short walk to the neighborhood market, many farmers markets are as unique as their location. Each market is a reflection of the neighborhood's culture and the nearby farmers, chefs and artists, and many markets offer unique vendors not found elsewhere. Walk, run or bike to a nearby market for a fresh taste and to see new faces.

Follow a farmers market veteran

See a fellow shopper loaded with bags? Watch where they're shopping: they might help you navigate to the market's best produce, cheese, bread or ready-to-eat cuisine.

Double the value

Through a partnership with Wholesome Wave Georgia, many metro Atlanta farmers markets not only accept SNAP benefits (EBT cards/Food Stamps), they also double the value. To help increase access to healthy, locally produced food and support Georgia farmers, Wholesome Wave Georgia doubles each dollar spent on SNAP-eligible foods, up to $50 per visit. (View a list of participating farmers markets)

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So much more than veggies

Many markets draw food trucks and ready-to-eat vendors, and some offer local chef demonstrations using fresh produce and food from the market. Purchase a snack (or lunch) to enjoy at the market, and sample flavor combinations to help inspire your shopping.

Say hello to neighbors and old friends; you never know who you'll run into. Visit the handcrafted vendors for a selection of soaps, beauty products and jewelry. Find a table or bench to relax and enjoy the live entertainment, or watch the crowd for familiar faces.

Farmers markets offer a delicious foray into locally grown goodness. But they deliver much more than great food: the markets have become a neighborhood gathering place. The markets are a great spot to run into old friends, make some new friends and get to know the people who proudly grow, gather and produce your food. It's a weekly morning ritual that you'll grow to love.

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