When diving into the world of healthy eating, you’ll soon find an entire lifestyle brimming with opportunities to connect with local farmers, restaurant owners, and culinary artisans looking to make the world a better place through food.

Arizona, with its year-round growing season, offers plentiful opportunities to eat locally grown produce and explore culinary adventures designed to foster greater connections between you and food. Buying healthy food from a grocery store is convenient and has its place, but adventuring into Arizona’s local food world is a wonderful way to reconnect with food’s source while having fun.

If you’re ready to explore Arizona’s thriving local food scene, here are a few ways to get started.

1. Farmers markets

Many people outside Arizona aren’t aware of the state’s robust agriculture scene. Just about every day of the week brings a farmers market somewhere around the Phoenix area and elsewhere in the state. The markets sell fruits and vegetables, but also often locally made cheese, bread, salsas, olive oils, and personal care products like shampoos and soaps. You’ll also find locally raised meat and poultry.

Farmers markets are more than places to finish the week’s grocery shopping—they’re also places to connect with neighbors through a relaxed atmosphere where people mingle while sipping on coffee or dining on food from a vendor.

A good resource to stay up-to-date on farmers market happenings is the Arizona Community Farmers Markets’ website. The organization runs markets in Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale, Goodyear, and on Arizona State University’s campus. The site also lists classes, like a container gardening seminar happening at the Anthem farmers market.

Phoenix hosts a variety of farmers markets each week, too. Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. check out Central Farmers Market at Cross Roads United Methodist Church. Portions of the market’s produce and proceeds support local food banks.

The Phoenix Public Market runs Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Central Avenue and McKinley Street. Here you’ll find eclectic goods ranging from duck eggs to goat milk soap.

2. Community-supported agriculture

Get the farm-fresh produce and feel-good vibes of a farmers market through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscription. Through CSAs, members receive weekly boxes packed with produce grown by Arizona farms. Farmers drop the boxes at designated pick-up locations, such as businesses, restaurants, and farmers markets, for customer pick up. Some services offer home delivery for a fee.

Chow Locally is one of the more popular options. The company acts as a food hub, collecting food from farms and ranches across Arizona and then delivering curated packages to people. Boxes are $24 each week and include up to ten varieties of produce along with specially created recipes using the week’s items.

Many other CSAs involve directly signing up with farms offering the program. Members sign up for the season, which usually lasts 12 weeks, paying upfront for the entire duration. This allows the farmer to know how much food to grow. The subscription dollars immediately go to buy seeds and pay farm hands’ salaries during the growing season.

In addition to the weekly produce box, members may purchase add-ons like bread, coffee, or locally produced meat and eggs.

Farms offering seasonal CSAs include Queen Creek’s Desert Roots Farm, Maya’s Farm at South Mountain, and Gila Farm Cooperative, run by a group of refugee farmers from around the world, including Burma, Congo, Cuba, and Sudan.

To enjoy the convenience of weekly subscriptions with the benefit of directly supporting farmers, try a box from Sunizona Family Farms.

3. Healthy restaurants

Healthy restaurants abound in Arizona, and many offer what’s known as a farm-to-table experience, with ingredients coming straight from local farms.

For a gourmet casual experience, try True Food Kitchen, with locations in Phoenix and Scottsdale. The restaurant is a collaboration between Sam Fox, the mind behind many popular Phoenix eateries, and renowned wellness expert, Dr. Andrew Weil, best-selling author and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.

The dishes are designed around Weil’s signature anti-inflammatory diet, focusing on greens, fish, and lots of vegetables. When possible, plates include locally grown, organic produce.

Other restaurants serving locally grown goods include the various eateries at The Farm at South Mountain. Morning Glory Café serves up breakfast while The Farm Kitchen serves sandwiches, salads, and other healthy fare for a mid-day meal. If you’re looking for something a little fancier, visit Quiessence, serving gourmet food that’s locally sourced when possible amid a romantic, patio-garden setting.

4. Pick your own produce

Spend a day getting the ultimate farmer experience and pick your own produce! Arizona farms offering this special activity include Mother Nature’s Farm in Gilbert, with events like the annual post-Mother’s Day peach picking and apple picking in May.

Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek is always offering special events and opportunities for you-pick produce. In May, peaches will be ripe for picking, and 2015 marks the 20th annual Peach Festival.

Vertuccio Farms in Mesa also offers a farmers market and seasonal you-pick peaches.

5. Agritourism

Across the way from Schnepf Farms lies Queen Creek Olive Mill, featuring tours of the 100-acre, working olive farm from which the owners craft their artisan product, as well as classes explaining everything you ever wanted to know about olive oil. An on-site restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner from locally grown vegetables.

For those venturing, or living, outside of the Valley, visit the Ranch at Fossil Creek in Strawberry outside Payson. The ranch is home to llamas and dairy goats as well as a creamery, where patrons can buy goat’s milk cheese and fudge. Activities include farm tours and llama hikes.

6. Food education

Expand your health food knowledge with local Arizona experts divulging the secrets of the desert. At Boyce Thompson Arboretum, events include medicinal desert plants guided walks and other, similar programs. Check the website to avoid missing out on upcoming events.

What is your favorite way to make healthy food fun in Arizona?

Image by brianna.lehman via Flickr

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