With all the brutal weather we've been having this winter, it makes us feel better to realize that spring – and the outdoor market scene – aren't too far off.

When it comes to agriculture, Pennsylvania is a national, no make that a world player, and the 63,000 farm families are the ones who make it happen.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture points out that the agribusinesses in the commonwealth has been spurring business relationships around the world.

The state's dairy industry, which produces ice cream and frozen deserts as well as butter, cheese and milk products, takes a seat at the head of the class.

How could a Super Bowl party survive without the Pennsylvania-produced snack foods, especially the two big headliners – potato chips and pretzels? The munchy treats help generate over $5 billion in annual sales, backing Pennsylvania's claim as "Snack Food Capital of the World."

With its wide array of chocolate and cocoa products, Hershey Foods Corporation has long been a big hitter on the world stage.

And how could our salad bars and personal diets survive without the mushroom? Rich in protein and fiber and low in fat content, it's a favorite of nutritionists and also carries medicinal values. And yes, Pennsylvania leads the nation in mushroom production, with an annual production of more than 425 million pounds.

The state's meat, poultry and fish products are also second to none. State cattle, in fact, serve as prime breeding stock for several countries.

With all of this success, the state is inviting farmers interested in selling their locally-grown products at farmers markets along the state's busiest highway. While supporting the state's farmers and their products, The Pennsylvania Turnpike Plaza Farmers Market program also allows Turnpike travelers a convenient access to fresh, locally-grown, high quality Pennsylvania products.

At least half of gross sales must consist of products grown or produced in the state. Value-added items like canned goods, candles, soaps, preserves and baked pies must not exceed 25 percent of the gross sales.

The Allentown Service Plaza in Lehigh County is one of three sites on the turnpike system which will be available to vendors beginning April 1. The markets will operate from 11 a.m. until dusk on Fridays and Sundays and 10 a.m. until dusk on Saturdays, Mondays and holiday weekends, through Nov. 30.

Rules and regulations and the application are available at the Department of Agriculture at www.agriculture.state.pa.us under "Bureaus and Commissions," and "Bureau of Market Development."

By the time April rolls around, a locally-grown fruit or vegetable will certainly look a lot better than these snow piles we've seen growing higher every couple days this winter.