Editor's note: This guest blog was provided by our sponsor, Western Dairy Association.

Fresh dark greens and bright berries, the smells of roasting peppers and warm pies, free crunchy fruit samples and warm weather can't be beat. Farmers markets offer the exceptional opportunity to purchase "just picked" local produce and unique locally-made products. Here are some of the top reasons and helpful tips for taking advantage of local foods at the farmers market this summer:

Fresh Flavors

Picked at the peak of freshness, local fruits and vegetables can have the purist flavors. Some consumers really appreciate the concept that the produce that they are buying was picked and cleaned only hours to a few days before market.

Variety of Nutritious Options

Farmers markets are particularly appealing to shoppers who eat with their eyes. Go early for the biggest assortment of fresh foods, and peruse all the booths before making your selection. Try "pairing" nutrient-rich farmers market favorites—children are more likely to enjoy the variety of broccoli, green beans, cucumbers, or Brussels sprouts you pick up from the market when served with a homemade cheese sauce or probiotic-rich yogurt dip; all made with the freshest ingredients.

Support Your Local Economy

Supporting the local economy is an important reason why many choose to shop at farmers markets. Farmers create jobs for people in their community and money spent on your favorite farmers market finds sustains family farms and ranches and contributes nearly $16 billion to the state economy each year.

Speak Directly to the Farmer

Transparency has become a top priority for consumers when it comes to food purchasing decisions. Knowing who produces your food and having the ability to ask them what and why they do what they do makes you a well-informed shopper. Take your time to get to know the local vendors, their farm management practices and the products they produce.

Environmentally Friendly

Food doesn't travel far when you purchase produce from a farmers market—one of the easiest steps to improving the environmental footprint of the foods we eat.

Good Value

Market goods can frequently be purchased at discounted prices. Farmers can be very generous, providing sales for purchasing their foods in bulk or taking the last product. Another convenient perk, farmers typically allow you to choose how many of a certain food you want as opposed to having to buy prepackaged containers.

Seasonal Foods

There is something to be said about the anticipation of waiting for the local produce to come to market; it makes shopping farmers markets that much more satisfying. Enjoy the fresh bounty of the season. Want to know what foods will be available at specific times of the year? Check out this seasonal guide to local produce.

Keep in mind that while farmers markets can be bountiful, enjoyable places to shop for healthy foods, not all of your healthy staples should be purchased there, specifically, milk.

Why is milk not sold at farmers markets?

In the United States, milk is one of the most highly-regulated and tested foods on the market. Milk and dairy products undergo numerous safety, quality and sanitation checks once milk leaves the farm to be pasteurized. Pasteurization is required by law in most states because heating milk to an appropriate temperature destroys pathogens that could otherwise cause life-threatening food borne illness. Raw milk that has not been pasteurized should be avoided under any condition, regardless if you know its origin.

The same fresh flavors and overnight delivery found at a farmers market can be provided when purchasing milk from your local supermarket. In fact, much of the milk that is delivered to the grocery store was at the farm just two days prior. Milk is quickly moved from the farm, to a local dairy processing plant to be tested for safety, then pasteurized, packaged and delivered to your grocery store shelves.

Want to meet the dairy farm families who produce your milk? Visit www.westerndairyassociation.org/dairy-farms/meet-a-dairy-family/.

Regardless of whether you take advantage of the season's bounty of local foods at the farmers market or at your local supermarket, your local farm families will thank you for supporting them.

Photo Credit: Jamie In Bytown via Compfight cc