applesIf we had a big ol' brass farm bell to ring, we'd clang it now! This is come-and-get-it time in Southwest Michigan. Area pick-your-own farms, roadside stands and downtown community markets are abounding in fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, cheeses, eggs and flowers. There are shelves of colorful jams, jellies and salsas. Bags of fresh-baked breads and donuts covered in cinnamon-sugar. The farm market freezers are stocked with ready-to-bake fruit pies and bags of berries for smoothies. Of course, reading about this bounty doesn't compare to plucking a plump, sun-ripened peach from the tree and taking a juicy bite. So c'mon! Bring the family for a fun (and delicious) time in the country!

Field-to-fork feasting season runs now 'til November. Plan to spend a day or more buying your favorite varieties. Choose from eat-it-today quantities or bring home bushels to preserve or turn into juices, wines or flavored vinegars and oils that you can continue to savor into winter. Southwest Michigan farms and markets have collected recipes and posted them here. The site welcomes your recipe ideas, too. Or share them on Facebook.com/swmtc. Many farm markets also sell cookbooks or offer free recipe cards. And if you want to preserve your own food, but aren't sure how — take this online food preservation course presented by the Michigan State University Extension Services.

No time to cook or preserve? Let local chefs awe you with farm-to-table freshness. You won't be the only one gathering up bushels and pecks of fresh food from area farms and markets. Many of this region's renowned chefs handpick their produce, meats, poultry and cheeses locally, too. Anyone that gathers at their tables is in for a taste sensation that only comes from the truly freshest ingredients. So if you like eating fresh, but not cooking ... or if you're on the lookout for amazing culinary ideas to recreate at home, visit our locally owned restaurants. You'll savor every minute.

So when is the best time to come for your favorites? Here is a table of estimated availability times. Be sure to check with individual farms, markets and restaurants to confirm that there's plenty. Enjoy!

fresh fruits and vegetables estimated availability times