Most people think of farmers' markets when it's too late.

Driving home from a weekend at the beach, it's easy to miss those hand-painted signs, usually planted less than 25 feet from the roadside stand. Whizzing past, the drivers' standard reply to anxious corn and tomato lovers who insist on turning around is we'll get it at the next one.

So attractive is the prospect of home-grown produce that some people who hate the beach claim they make the trip solely for the pleasure of stopping off at one of these markets for a carload of Silver Queen corn, sweet juicy peaches and vine-ripened tomatoes.

The truth is, you don't have to go that far. There are dozens of open-air farmers' markets in the Washington area, including one on a busy street corner in Adams-Morgan, selling locally-grown produce as well as farm fresh eggs and dairy products.

The Food Section has compiled a list of several area open-air markets which sell local produce. Many of them, including The Merrifield Farm Market and Potomac Vegetable Farms, carry produce grown on their own farms. Some markets offer more than fruits, plants and vegetables.The Reston Farm Market carries freshly baked Amish pastries on Saturday morning, including chocolate chip cookies which can only be described as "The Famous Amish" answer to the more expensive commercial brands.

Prices are up slightly from last year, with white corn selling for an average of $1.50 to $2 for a dozen ears. Yellow corn is somewhat lower. Most farmers blame the recent drought for the price hike. But several mentioned consumers who continue to strip open ears of corn who worm inspection as a factor. They try to discourage the practice because, as one farmer put it, "I end up throwing away a lot of good food corn. People won't buy it all torn up." Most corn prices at roadside stands the same or higher than they are in supermarkets.

Tomatoes are selling for an average of 40 cents a pound, up slightly from last year, but still a bargain. One local supermarket was selling tomatoes for 59 cents a pound last week.

It's best to buy in the morning before the crowds come. Corn should be refrigerated, its husks left on until immediatly before cooking, as the flavor deteriorates rapidly once it husked.

Most of these markets stay open well into the fall, selling apples, cider and apple butter, pumpkins for Halloween and Christmas trees in December.