HONOLULU (Jan. 17, 2014) -- More and more people are becoming concerned consumers when it comes to their food.

Now, instead of just the cost and calorie count of a pound of apples or gallon of milk, food customers want to know where it was grown, how it was handled and who had a hand in getting it from the farm to their plate.

As these trends toward environmental sustainability, nutrition and local sourcing continue to grow -- they are predicted by the National Restaurant Association's annual What's Hot culinary forecast as the top food movements of 2014 -- so too do farmers' markets. Oahu, in particular, has seen a surge in these open-air markets in recent years, with new locations cropping up nearly every week.

For those unfamiliar with farmers' markets, they are a hotbed for conscious consumers looking to find fresh, homegrown produce and handmade crafts at bargain prices. Here, farmers gather on a weekly basis to sell their products directly to customers rather than going through a middleman, such as the supermarket.

The payoff is that you, the buyer, have access to locally grown food fresh off the farm -- think Kahuku corn, Manoa honey and Waimanalo greens -- while farmers receive a larger slice of the profit pie for their hard work.

"We're working on helping new, young farmers market their products and give them a venue to sell their products," said Pamela Boyar, market manager of FarmLovers Farmers' Markets, which oversees the Haleiwa, Kakaako, Pearlridge, Hawaii Kai and Kailua Town farmers' markets.

Other positives to come out of farmers' market include a greater awareness of how your food is grown and a drastic reduction in your carbon footprint on the environment, as it takes far less fuel to transport lettuce from MA'O Farms in Waianae or kale from Mohala Farms in Waialua to a downtown farmers' market than it does to ship in similar veggies from the mainland.

"This encourages more growth of local food," Boyar explained.

"There's a chain that happens when people shop at farmers' markets; for every $1 spent, another $3 is spent in the outlying community. The impact is at least threefold."

Living solely off the 'aina (land) isn't new -- native Hawaiians developed a system of land management known as an ahapua'a where an entire village used resources found from mauka (the mountains) to makai (the ocean) and where each person contributed to the benefit of the society, be it through growing kalo in the lo'i (taro patch) or pounding kapa (cloth) into clothing.

Today, farmers' markets are encouraging a return to this "simpler" life where people relied on their neighbor for daily necessities rather than a stranger from eBay.

"Our markets all offer community, because there's no real places for people to gather anymore," said Boyar, noting that each FarmLovers market has a café where patrons can listen to live music, have a snack and talk story, as well as a keiki corner where kids can keep busy with free arts and crafts.

Most farmers' markets provide similar accoutrements, including live demonstrations, book signings and plenty of ready-made treats to keep shoppers satisfied as they roam from booth to booth.

It's also worth mentioning farmers' markets sell more than just fruits and vegetables -- local beef, fish, pasture-raised eggs, herbs, soaps, candles, potted plants, even handbags and artwork are just some of the items available at most farmers' markets.

"We have festivals to celebrate seasonal crops or cultural themes, such as Taro Fest in October and Cacao Fest in January," Boyar noted. "Vendors will go out of their way to create festive recipes and value added products highlighting that crop."

Boyar added that vendors are more than happy to answer questions customers may have and often will offer suggestions on how to use their product.

"We want to be able to create a business incubate for small farmers, food manufacturers and artisans and grow a supportive and nurturing environment here in Hawaii, which will cultivate economic growth, community health and cultural awareness," she continued. "We believe that these men and women are doing us a huge service by growing the food that we eat, and we want to support their efforts in any way possible."

Grown in Hawaii

Not all farmers' markets are created equal, according to Pamela Boyar, market manager of FarmLovers Farmers' Markets, which oversees the Haleiwa, Kakaako, Pearlridge, Hawaii Kai and Kailua Town farmers' markets.

"(Former Hawaii governor) Frank Fasi set up these 'people's markets' 30 or so years ago, so that people could have access to fresh food, which was a great idea and resource, but not all of the products were local," said Boyar.

"In our markets," Boyar continued, "the seller has to be from here or be selling a product that was made here. We (FarmLovers Farmers' Markets and the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation) are the only two (farmers' markets) that sell strictly all local."

Boyar said the best way to ensure that what you take home is fresh from the 'aina (Hawaiian for land) is to go straight to the source.

"Ask the vendor if the product is from here," she advised. "We feel it is a real disservice to our customers (not to support local). There's a lot of young farmers out there growing foods, and we really want to support them."

Farmers Markets

As more and more farmers' markets sprout up around the island, it is easy to get lost in the weeds over which market has the best bananas or sells the freshest flower lei. But the best way to figure out where and when to shop is to get out and explore!

Remember to arrive early, as stands can sell out and crowds tend to get bigger as the day goes by. Also, it's a good idea to bring your own reusable bags and plenty of $1 bills.

The following is a list of gatherings hosted by Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and FarmLovers Farmers' Markets to help you get a taste of the local farmers' market scene:

Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation
•Honolulu @ Night -- Wednesdays, 4-7 p.m., at the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall, 777 Ward Ave.
•Kailua @ Night -- Thursdays, 5-7:30 p.m., parking lot by Longs Drugs, 609 Kailua Rd.
•Kapiolani Community College (KCC) -- Saturdays, 7:30-11 a.m., 4303 Diamond Head Rd., Parking Lot C, Honolulu.
•KCC @ Night -- Tuesdays, 4-7 p.m., 4303 Diamond Head Rd., Parking Lot C, Honolulu.
•Mililani -- Sundays, 8-11 a.m., at Mililani High School gym parking lot, 95-1200 Meheula Pkwy.

FarmLovers Farmers' Markets
•Haleiwa Farmers' Market -- Thursdays, 3-7 p.m., at Waimea Valley, 59-864 Kamehameha Hwy.
•Hawaii Kai Farmers' Market -- Saturdays, 8 a.m.-noon, at Koko Head Elementary School, 189 Lunalilo Home Rd.
•Kakaako Farmers' Market -- Saturdays, 8 a.m.-noon, along Auahi Street in Ward Warehouse, diagonal to Ward Movie Theatre, Honolulu.
•Kailua Town Farmers' Market -- Sundays, 8:30 a.m.-noon, at Kailua Elementary School, 315 Kuulei Rd.
•Pearlridge Farmers' Market -- Saturdays, 8 a.m.-noon, in the Pearlridge Center downtown parking lot, 98-1005 Moanalua Rd., at the corner of Kamehameha Highway and Pali Momi, Aiea.