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Springing up: Farm tours and farmers' markets

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From early season asparagus to garlic that has spent all winter under the soil, fresh, local produce is coming into season at area farmers' markets.

Many Triangle markets that close during winter reopen this month, while others arrive in May. Year-round markets are expanding their Saturdays and adding mid-week hours.

These are not only great places to pick up produce and plants for your garden, but also for homemade crafts, cheeses and desserts. Talking to the growers can be as rewarding as the goods, from tips and tricks for your own kitchen or garden to a detailed description of how bees tell each other where the pollen awaits, these purveyors can unload a wealth of information.

See our complete Triangle's farmers' markets list for times, locations and contact information.

Farm tours are a great way to see your food at the source. The Piedmont Farm Tour, the first local tour of 2009, happens April 25-26 from 1-6 p.m. This is an opportunity to visit 40 local farms to see how they work, and it offers the chance to speak with farmers who grow local foods, using sustainable methods.

Bring the kids for an educational experience; it's an opportunity to see where the food they eat comes from and a chance to play with farm animals. Be sure to pack a cooler in the car to bring home fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats and other goods you can purchase during your visits.

Guests can also visit farms that don't necessarily specialize in producing foods. Avillion Farm in Mebane, for example, raises fiber-producing livestock. Visitors can watch as fiber is spun into yarn by hand. At Pickards Mountain Eco Institute in Chapel Hill, you can see solar panels and wind turbines that power a farm, as well as a bio-diesel refinery.

Buttons to visit all 40 farms are $25 if purchased in advance, $30 if purchased from the first farm where you stop. For single farm visits, the charge is $10 per car. For more information, to purchase buttons and download a guide, visit carolinafarmstewards.org.

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