My closest farmer’s market runs during the summer, from 5 to 9 p.m. outside a Macy’s department store in a large suburban shopping mall parking lot. While there are numerous year-round farmer’s markets in the L.A. area, this one has a particularly festive feel, and I love traveling from booth to booth in search of ding-free produce that has just the right amount of fresh dirt clinging to it.

Last week, I bought some gorgeous summer squash—bright yellow, freshly picked that morning and not a blemish to be found. In supermarkets, and even at my local natural and organic food store, I often have trouble finding squash with such clear skin and fresh-from-the-ground flavor.

As Deb Barshafsky wrote in her 1998 Augusta essay, “Stand Buy Your Yam: The Lure of the Southern Produce Stand,” nothing beats a roadside vegetable stand or farmer’s market: “Grocery stores are clean, well-lit, well-stocked shrines to all things edible, but you don’t get somebody’s grandmother putting a piece of peach in your mouth. You do get somebody’s teenager who needs a photo album at the cash register to tell the difference between a butternut squash and a daikon radish.”

As Barshafsky points out, vegetables grow in dirt, and “handling a basket of soil-smudged crooknecks with my Keds firmly planted in Georgia red clay feels just right.” She doesn’t miss grocery barcode scanners, membership discount cards or automatic sprayers that douse supermarket veggies with water at scheduled times.

If you haven’t visited your local farmer’s market this summer, it’s time to take the family on a tasty field trip. To locate a farmer’s market in your area, click here.

Photo by Bill Tarpenning/USDA