There are many benefits to buying local produce. You are supporting local farmers, helping the environment by buying items that didn't use large amounts of energy to be transported before sold, and saving yourself a ton of money. Most items at the farmer's market cost much less than "fresh" fruit at the grocery store.
The main reason I enjoy buying local produce, however, is the nutritional benefit. You may wonder, what's the difference between an apple bought at the store and an apple bought locally?
Well, most store-bought apples were picked before they were ripe, making them less nutritious. They are then transported from where they were grown (many times in places like Mexico, Florida and California) causing the vitamins to slowly deteriorate due to exposure to air, light and temperature changes. Sometimes the fruit will be gassed with an ethylene gas (a naturally occurring ripening agent) in order to improve color or to ripen the fruit before it goes on the grocery store shelf.
Most local produce you find at the farmer's market, however, is picked the day of sale, at it's ripest point, and sold just hours later.
A great way to save money while purchasing produce is to get involved in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which will allow you to buy a "share" in a farmer's crop and receive a weekly selection of what has been harvested. For more information and to find a CSA near you, click here.
Something to also remember while you are shopping in the summer is to buy double so that you can freeze, can or dehydrate fruits and veggies for use during the winter months.
If you do need to buy produce at the grocery store during the winter, try to buy frozen. The produce that is used in the frozen foods section was generally picked when it was riper than the "fresh" fruit. Canned produce from the grocery store should be avoided because the lining of the cans is full of a chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA).
Also, if you are purchasing from an unknown vendor at the farmer's market, make sure you ask them where their produce is grown. There are many vendors out there that scam unsuspecting shoppers by purchasing produce from the same places the grocery stores get theirs and pass it off as local.
And as always, make sure your fruits and veggies are free from pesticides and other chemicals, and are not hybridized or genetically modified.