If you love farmers markets, you are definitely not alone. According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farmers markets in the U.S. tripled in the 15 years from 1994 to 2009. There are now almost 5,300 of these wonderful markets throughout the country.

If you are tired of the artificial lighting in supermarkets and produce picked before ripening to perfection, head for your local farmers market this week. You will be rewarded by a symphony of shapes, colors, and textures of gorgeous fruits and vegetables. Natural light heightens the appeal of the stunning food.

Most animals lack color vision because they don’t need it. Humans can use the ability to see in color to select the freshest, ripest fruits and vegetables. Who can doubt that we are designed to thrive on whole foods? Otherwise, the colors would not attract and delight us the way they do.

Farmers markets are an ideal break from holiday shopping and hectic preparation for parties and wrapping gifts. The sunlight and fresh foods are relaxing. You will sense your roots in the earth and soil.

If your kids pester you in the supermarket for candy, cookies, or overpriced trinkets, you will find the farmers market a complete change of pace. Children love to run from booth to booth, and will beg for samples of fruit rather than for junk food. They can burn off their energy, and you need not be embarrassed if they are noisy or enthusiastic. Farmers markets are also educational for city kids, who may never think about how food grows or what the local crops are.

While larger farmers markets have more produce choices, smaller markets may be less crowded and have easier parking. If you are new to farmers markets, here are 8 useful tips to get started.

Find your market choices – Ask your neighbors, look in the newspaper, or just enter the name of your town and “farmers market” into your favorite search engine.

Visit several markets near you – If you are lucky enough to live close to several markets, visit them all to see which ones you like best. All will have a somewhat different mix of vendors and each will have its own ambience.

Go early – If you go during the first hour the market is open, you will have the best selection of produce and the aisles will not be crowded. On the other hand, if you get to the market during its last hour, some farmers will reduce prices to close out their inventory.

Bring reusable bags – As you walk around, you will notice many people have reusable grocery-size bags for their purchases. You can also save the plastic bags you use for individual kinds of produce (for example, the smaller bags you put your apples and lettuce in) and reuse those. This conserves the oil used to make the plastic and keeps bags out of landfills.

Bring enough cash – The farmers rarely accept credit or debit cards.

Have realistic price expectations – Since the food is fresh and premium quality, don’t expect bargain basement prices. Supermarkets buy food long in advance from giant farms and may offer better prices than a local small farmer. But the local food is likely to taste a lot better, and you have the satisfaction of supporting a small farm in your area.

Talk with the farmers – Most are friendly and love to let you know about their location, growing techniques, what will be in season next month, suggestions to cook their produce, and other helpful information.

Enjoy sampling – Many of the vendors will have samples of their best offerings out for you and your family to enjoy. If not, feel free to request a sample. Most farmers are glad to offer this.

Farmers markets are a perfect stop during the holidays; but are equally wonderful any time of year. Make a festive fruit basket for your table and have fun eating it after you look at it. Have your kids help with the arrangement. This will entice them to eat more healthy fruit. The beautiful colors will relax and refresh you year round.