There are so many things to buy at farmers' markets and a lot of benefits to shopping at one. The produce available will vary by location and time of year, so you'll always have new things to try. Plus, produce can be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what's available at farmers' markets. You may also find prepared foods, dairy and meat, and artisan goods like jewelry or ceramics. Below we'll dive into what a farmers' market is and how to make the most of visiting one.
What is a farmers' market?
So, if you've heard of them but have never been — what exactly is a farmers' market? A farmers' market is a place that gives local farmers and artisans the chance to sell directly to consumers. There are many things to buy at farmers' markets, ranging from fresh produce, cheese, honey and plants to prepared foods and crafts. A farmers' market can be mutually beneficial to both shoppers and farmers. Farmers get to cut out the middleman and sell directly to consumers, who in turn may get cheaper prices and fresher produce.
Farmers' markets have a long history in the United States, with the first recorded market dating back to 1634 in Boston. While their popularity waned in the 1700s when trading posts and grocery stores became more common, there was a resurgence in the 1970s as people became more health-conscious and wanted to know where their food was coming from. Modern-day markets tend to maintain the tradition of locally sourced goods and community connections that defined the original farmers' markets.
The Pike Place farmers' market in Seattle is perhaps the most well-known in the country and is a popular destination for both locals and tourists. Union Square farmers' market in the middle of the hustle and bustle in New York City has been operating for nearly 50 years and even offers live cooking demonstrations from chefs. The farmers' market in Santa Fe is one of the largest in the U.S., with more than 150 vendors for shoppers to choose from. Cities may have multiple markets operating on different days and at different times, so you're sure to find one that fits your schedule.
Things to buy at a farmers' market
Depending on where you live and the time of year, you may find different things to buy at a farmers' market. For instance, if you live in the northeast, such as New York or Boston, you may be able to buy things like corn, cucumbers and nectarines during the late summer, apples, pears and squash in the fall, beets and cranberries into the early winter, and chard, herbs and mushrooms in the spring.
If you're farmers' market shopping in Southern California, you may find fresh avocados as early as February, asparagus and artichokes ready in early spring, broccoli from December through May, Brussels sprouts November through February, carrots from February to June, chard in from January to April and corn from June to September. The warmer climate means there's more of a year-round growing season, so be sure to check out the websites for markets like The Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles or the Hill Crest Farmers Market in San Diego.
In places like Seattle or Atlanta, the available produce may be different still, so if you're looking for something in particular, make sure it's in season first. In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, there may be many other things to buy at a farmers' market. This can include fresh meat, cheese, honey and freshly baked bread.
Unique farmers' market finds
Farmers' markets often go beyond your local produce! Depending on where you are, you may be able to snag some unique finds or try some new dishes.
- Food trucks and vendors: Markets may also feature food trucks or vendors, where you can grab a bite to eat while you shop or after you're done.
- Sauces and spices: Another great farmers' market find can be take-home versions of your favorite sauces, spices or meals from a local restaurant you love.
- Antiques: Looking for a new statement piece for your home? You can often find vendors selling one-of-a-kind antiques.
- Pet-friendly finds: Don't forget something for man's best friend. Farmers' markets may have stalls that offer treats, toys and more for pets.
One of the things that makes farmers' markets special is the local aspect, so there may be some great farmers' market finds that represent your city or the place you're visiting. For example, Pike Place Photos at the Pike Place Market in Seattle sells photos of the market, the city and the Pacific Northwest. Or swing by one of the handmade jewelry stands, which often incorporate personal touches from the artists with natural motifs of Washington state, such as water, trees and coastlines. Many farmers' markets sell treats for our furry friends as well, such as vendors who sell homemade dog treats or hand-sewn collars and leashes. These types of booths will be especially popular in dog-friendly cities like Portland, Oregon or San Diego.
Farmers' market tips
If you usually stick to grocery stores, here are a few farmers' market tips to make your first trip a bit easier.
- Check the website: If you're looking for something particular or want to visit a specific vendor, keep up with your farmers' market's website. They may post updates on vendors and any other relevant tips for your trip.
- Know what to expect: As stated above, know what to expect in terms of produce depending on your location and the time of year. A quick search online will help you figure out what's currently in season in your area.
- Cash on hand: Not all vendors may be able to accept cards, so plan to stop at an ATM on the way to grab some cash. If possible, smaller bills will be even easier to use.
- BYOB (bring your own bags): Make sure to bring some good-sized totes to carry your produce. Some vendors may offer plastic bags, but it's easier for you and better for the environment to bring your own.
- The early bird gets the worm: Farmers' markets tend to get pretty busy, so it's a good idea to try and get to the market soon after it opens. Not only does this reduce crowds, but it also means there will be more produce available than if you go later in the day. Depending on your location, there could be heavy traffic, so make sure to take that into account and plan ahead.
- Furry friend policies: Some farmers' markets are pet friendly while others are not, so if you're hoping to bring your dog along make sure you check the market's pet policy beforehand.
So, what is a farmers' market? It's a way to save some money on produce, support local farmers, businesses and artisans, get the freshest fruits and vegetables possible and enjoy all the things your city has to offer. Just don't forget your tote bag, and check what's in season before heading out to shop.