Reston Animal Park, with its elephant ride and assorted critters, could be termed a circus of sorts. But Reston Farm Market, just across the road, is the main attraction for a forager. That is, if you're ready for an amusing, quirky and satisfying shopping adventure. First, follow your nose to the old-time roaster in the courtyard and grab a bag of warm peanuts to munch along the way. Then, drag a red Radio Flyer wagon inside Reston Farm Market's 60-by-90-foot green and white striped produce tent.

Overall, the look is Caribbean port town on market day, but without the flies and rodents. Huge bamboo poles crisscross overhead and support vintage hanging scales. Lush palms and flowers are everywhere. Step up to the tiki hut for freshly ground horseradish ($2.99 per jar), straight up or combined with wasabi (a Japanese horseradish mixture), grated beets or carrots. Like free samples? There are lots of them. Live bluegrass music, cooking demos and a hot dog and hamburger cookout on weekends add to the festival atmosphere.

Under this big top (as well as in the adjoining gourmet country store, the Norman Bar and well-stocked nursery), owner Hall Kern is the ringmaster. His inventive touch is everywhere. Kern, 55, an antiques collector, has a thing for wacky old machines and curiosities. He incorporates his "finds" on the sales floor and throughout the sprawling property.

Reston natives (there are a few) may remember when Kern first opened for business back in 1976. He peddled pumpkins and Christmas trees from his home -- a Volkswagen bus parked in a farmer's field. Little by little the business and buildings grew.

Now it's show time. Think "big kid with toys." A row of fun-house mirrors leads the way to a stainless-steel refrigerated tank of bobbing watermelons. Beautiful fruits and vegetables from local custom growers are stacked on classic spoke-wheeled wagons. Those peanuts you are eating were cooked in a sputtering and smoking 1905 "Royal" coffee roaster.

After you park your wagon at the door of the gourmet market and dried-flower shop, head straight for the rear corner and order the custom stone-ground organic grains. The fussy old belt-driven machines that toast and grind take time and often blow a fuse. "Believe me, we lose money on it -- it's a loss leader," says Kern as he fiddles with the contraption. "But where else can you go and get fresh roasted or ground grains just the way you want them?" Our flour is still warm when we get home. Expect hard and soft wheat (99 cents per pound), long-grain rice ($1.79 per pound), rye (89 cents per pound) -- and, the most popular, fragrant roasted corn flour (99 cents per pound), perfect for bread and tortillas. (For ideas on how to work with different kinds of flour, you may want to get hold of Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik's excellent 1993 book, "Bread Alone" (William Morrow).

While Kern grinds away, check out the unusual products he has collected in his travels. Don't overlook his favorites: Fuller's Mustard ($3.99 a jar), Bauman's Sweet Tomato Butter ($3.29), Armstrong Jalapeno Stuffed Olives ($4.89), Jake & Amos Vegetable Salad ($5.99) and Faller's Stick Pretzels ($2.39).

Next door at the Norman bar, a soda fountain in a rustic thatch cottage, Kern (or one of his more than 40 employees) makes a tall, tangy and refreshing lemon snow cone ($1.50). "I've been dreaming about an ice machine for years," he says. The man is beaming. He loves to bring others pleasure. But his latest concoction, Moxie Cream Snow (a $2 combo of Moxie, America's oldest soft drink, and rich Lewes Dairy cream), is an acquired taste. "People who grew up with Moxie are fanatical about it," he tells us. He likens the flavor to a Dr Pepper-and-cough-syrup milkshake. Yum. Kern says folks drive great distances to stock up on the beverage ($4.99 per six-pack) they loved as children. He's got it and proud of it. "Why, the other day a man came up to me and said, I just want to shake the hand of the man who brought Moxie to Reston.' "

Reston Farm Market is open year round, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. 10800 Baron Cameron Ave., Reston (just off Leesburg Pike); call 703-759-7272.