As warm weather descendes on Darien, a town tradition will return on Wednesday, May 12, bringing with it fresh produce as well as meat and dairy products from local farmers.

The Darien Farmers Market will begin its 13th summer in town at 11 a.m. Wednesday in the Mechanic Street Parking Lot, a location it has called home for the past several years.

"We have a really great array of farmers coming," said Laura McKinney, a farmer from Riverbank Farm who has been participating in the market since its first season in 1998.

"We're all local farmers with a huge diversity of stuff from fruit to berries," she said. "Some markets have a couple vendors, and you can't get your cheeses or your meats, but we really try to do that. This year, there's limited space, but we focused on trying to get vendors that are producers covering all the grounds, so our customers can really eat seasonally and get everything they need for a delicious meal."

Some of the market's vendors have been participating since the very first season, while others have joined up in following years, according to Rick Macsuga, coordinator of the farmers market program for the state Department of Agriculture.

"You've got a very good group of growers that have been there since day one," Macsuga said. "And the product line starts very early and they go well into the year. ... It's the longest market in the state."

According to the market's website, darienfarmersmarket.net, it will run until Christmas.

As the seasons change, so will the products available at the market, McKinney said. In the first few weeks, Darienites can expect to find in season produce as well as plants for their gardens. The ability to find in-season foods that haven't been shipped across the country or overseas is one of the perks of buying at a farmers market, she said.

"Most produce travels 2,000 miles from field to the plate. Once you start shopping at a farmers market, you get hooked on going, because the produce is so fresh and you can just taste the difference. You can become an amazing chef overnight because you don't have to do much with the food. The flavor and the freshness is just incredible," McKinney said.

"Most of these guys are picking that product the night before, or in some cases, if it's something very perishable, that morning," said Macsuga. "It's a morning market, so they're up before the sun, packing the truck, cutting the herbs and bringing them right to the market."

The freshness adds a whole new level to a food-buying experience, he said.

"Everything is different. There's different colors, shapes and smells," Macsuga said. "When you go to the grocery store, everything is almost universal in size, shape and color, whereas at the farmers market, it's a little but of everything; the varieties are much, much different. You get to see what real food looks like."

And with local farmers supplying the food, it creates a closed economy, with no middle-man, Macsuga said.

"It's Connecticut residents buying Connecticut food. The money spent there stays there," he said.

"The more we're able to support local food, the more we can change the world and the environment we live in. When you say, `I want to support farms and support food,' it's a great experience. You have a connection to the people who grow the food and produce it," McKinney said. And as a vendor who has come back to town to sell her products for more than a decade, she has also developed a relationship with her customers.

"We've been going for a long time, and there's a lot of nice, young families in Darien. We've seen kids who were in their mothers' stomachs and are now 8 or 9 years old," she said.

The market is sponsored by the Town of Darien, Former First Selectman Bob Harrel, the Connecticut Farm Fresh Cooperative Association and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture.