Nothing beats the first bite.
Whether it's sinking one's teeth into a juicy plum, crunching into a tart apple plucked straight from the tree or nibbling on a ripe green pepper, people crave the experience of eating farm-fresh food year-round.
Judging from the steady stream of cars lining up along the lots, local farm markets are in the peak of their season.
Dave Mulvin of Mulvin's Market says he and his employees are busier than ever.
"This is the first year we grew seedless watermelon and seedless yellow melon -- those did really well," Mulvin said.
On their vast farm at 1706 Perkins Ave., the family is best known for growing 60 acres of sweet corn, 30 acres of tomatoes and a variety of other fruits and vegetables.
During his busiest production months, Mulvin hires more than 40 employees to help.
Rain or shine, he's up before the sun most mornings to pick sweet corn with his staff.
"I enjoy all the people here, being able to train folks in farming," he said. "We have a lot of younger kids who work here, and it gives them a sense of work ethic."
Like most farm markets, there's no middleman, shipping or packaging fees -- allowing Mulvin to pass the savings on to his customers.
He admits he's had to raise prices slightly this year due to the higher costs of production. Fertilizer more than tripled in price -- from $300 per ton last year to $950 this year -- while diesel fuel skyrocketed and seed costs doubled.
Still, because most of his produce is wholesale, it tends to be less expensive than purchasing the same items at the grocery store.
Tammy Hinman, a national agricultural specialist, said farm market prices depend upon the product. Citing national price comparison studies, she said most customers on average will pay a bit more for farm-fresh foods -- but they don't seem to mind.
"They're actually getting more for their money because of the quality of the product -- it lasts longer, and they don't throw food away," Hinman said.
Within the past 10 years, there's been about an 18 percent increase in the number of farmer's markets nationwide, Hinman said. (Farmer's markets are venues with a variety of farmers, while individual farm markets may consist of everything from a roadside stand or pick-your-own produce to a year-round operation.)
Pick-your-own produce venues are becoming especially popular.
"I think a lot of people are more interested in becoming acquainted with how their food is produced, and the farmer's market is such a tangible way to do that," she said.
At the Enderle Family Farm in Huron, berries are the staple of a more than 30-year business.
Todd Enderle and his brothers, Scott and Ed, allow customers to pick their own strawberries and raspberries.
"Locally grown certainly is a big advantage because they're ripened on the plant, not picked when partially ripened and artificially ripened for the store," Todd Enderle said. "The nice thing about picking your own is you pick what you want -- not only volume-wise, but also quality-wise ... you can taste what you're taking home."
He also provides guests with a glimpse of how their food is grown. Strawberries are planted in the spring and covered with straw through the summer. By the following spring, they're ripe and ready. Raspberries are more difficult -- typically yielding a good crop only every third year.
At Burnham Orchards, Joe Burnham IV said the seasonal nature of business requires patience.
Right now, the peaches are in their prime.
But due to the dry weather, they were a little later than usual.
"We're very dependent on weather," Burnham said. "It's been dry this past month, so we're trying to irrigate some of our peaches. We also get real busy in harvest time and work a lot of hours, so family has to have an understanding ... but overall, it's been good to us."
Burnham is the sixth generation of his family's 230-acre fruit farm, best known for its apples.
In the fall, they'll harvest the bulk of their apples and invite families to come to their festivals for corn mazes, hay rides and fresh-picked fruit.
Julie Fox, direct marketing and tourism specialist for the Ohio State University Extension Office, said farm markets and farmer's markets continue to spread their seeds.
There are now 157 farmer's markets listed in the Buckeye State and more than 600 farm markets.
In times of stiff competition, diversity is key.
"One of the reasons we're seeing growth is more interest in buying locally ... and agricultural land is close to a lot of people," she said. "Ohio is so diverse that there's a great opportunity for people to go direct to the farm ... and the more the diversity in Ohio changes, we can reflect more of the experience people want."
In Lake County, for instance, she said a high Croatian population is driving more farm markets to produce a wide variety of peppers and ethnic foods.
For customers like Sandusky resident Debbie Fisher, who stopped to shop at Mulvin's on a recent afternoon, the attraction lies in the quality and freshness she can't find in a store.
"There's no comparison," she said. "I buy everything here ... I can never wait till they're open."
Burnham Orchards Inc.
8019 State Route 113
Open all year, 12:30-5:30 p.m. February-April; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. May-January; Bakery open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. July-December. Apple cider vinegar, Amish noodles, crafts, books, hanging baskets and mums. Educational tours, senior and group tours, Fall Harvest Festivals last weekend in September through end of October. Wagon rides, corn maze, pick-your-own apples, peaches, and pumpkins. Full-scale bakery, apple fritters, antique tractor toy display, novelty candies, and cider slushies.
Enderle Family Farm
756 River Road in Huron
Open May-September, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Features: asparagus, black raspberries, blackberries, honey, red raspberries, strawberries
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week
Features: Sweet corn, watermelons, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers, brown eggs, melons
3312 Bogart Road, Huron
Open April-July, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday (May only). Annual Herbfair the fourth week of June with workshops, vendors, food, garden tours, and plant sale -- all revolving around herbs.
Annuals, bedding plants, certified organic, eggs, herbs, perennials
1706 E. Perkins Ave., Sandusky
Open July-November, daily 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Field corn, whole ear.
apples, beans, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, cherries, cider, cucumbers, eggplant, grapes, greens, honey, melons, onions, peaches, pears, peppers, plums, potatoes, pumpkins, red raspberries, squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, watermelon, zucchini
Novotny Farm Market
1809 St. Rt. 60, Vermilion
Open all year, Monday-Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Features: Pick-your-own concord grapes, annuals, apples, asparagus, beans, bedding plants, beets, black raspberries, blackberries, Blue Spruce, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, Canaan Fir.
8403 Mason Road, Berlin Heights
Hours: Open July-December, daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Winery open April-December and January-March, Saturdays only Winery with tasting. Pick-your-own apples and peaches.
Strawberry Hill Farm LLC
8606 Hayes Avenue, Sandusky
Hours: Open all year, daily for 24 hours
Apples, asparagus, baked goods, blueberries, carrots, cauliflower, cider, cucumbers, grapes, honey, melons, onions, peaches, pears, peppers, pumpkins, red raspberries, squash, strawberries, sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon
Schmidt's Farm Market
Market location: Ohio 4, just north of the Ohio Turnpike
Hours: 12-6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 to 6 p.m. weekends
Features: Strawberries, corn, tomatoes, peppers, onions and melons. Also accepts WIC and senior discounts.
5084 Weyhe Road
708 Bridge Road (Ohio 269)
Bergman Greenhouses and Market, LLC.
4562 E. Bayshore Road
Limerock Orchards and Roadside Market
1266 North East Catawba Road, Port Clinton
Ohio 61 and West Main Street, Norwalk
Hours: Open June-October Monday-Friday noon-6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Features: Pick-your-own strawberries in June and raspberries in September
Kramer's Farm Market
5273 Whittlesey Road, Norwalk
Hours: Open April-December, Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Features: Variety of jams and jellies, fir trees and produce
Livengood's Berry Patch
1/2 mile south of Milan, on Ohio 601, Norwalk
Hours: Open May-August, Daily 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Features: Asparagus, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, red raspberries, strawberries
4465 Ohio 103 South, Willard
Hours: Open July-August, Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Features: Beans, beets, blueberries, cantaloupe, cucumbers
For a complete listing of area farm markets in all counties, visit here.