15 of America's Most Incredible Farmers' Markets
By Jeff Wells
As the demand for fresh, local foods has grown, America’s farmers' markets have evolved from hay bales and apple barrels to full-blown culinary experiences. Here are some of the top destinations from across the country.
1. FERRY PLAZA FARMERS MARKET
As if the picturesque location overlooking the San Francisco Bay weren’t enough, Ferry Plaza offers some of the boldest, freshest local products in the country, including a who’s who of brands that have gone on to wider fame, like Blue Bottle Coffee and Cowgirl Creamery. The market operates three days a week and sports a different theme each day. Tuesdays revolve around organic produce, while Thursdays focus on artisanal street fare. The sprawling Saturday market features a little bit of everything, and typically draws upwards of 25,000 visitors.
2. GREEN CITY MARKET
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Chicago’s largest farmers' market is notable for its rigorous vetting process, which requires all producers be certified by a third-party organization proving their “green” credentials. Those that make the cut will delight casual shoppers and foodies alike with everything from organic lettuces and microgreens to artisan grilled cheese, hot sauce and smoked meats. In July, more than 100 local restaurants and breweries will descend on the market to offer tasting menus. Tickets for the special event are pricey ($125), but for true Windy City food fans, that may well be a bargain.
3. FARMERS' AND CRAFTS MARKET OF LAS CRUCES
In addition to the loads of fresh produce, this New Mexico market is famous for its wide array of Southwest-inspired arts and crafts. You’ll find turquoise necklaces, woven baskets, ceramics, desert-landscape watercolors, and a collection of Native American artwork. Grab a cup of pour-over coffee and enjoy the live music while you stroll around. If you’re feeling bold, sample some of the local hot peppers on display.
4. CRESCENT CITY FARMERS MARKET
This four-day-a-week farmers market features all the local flavors that make New Orleans a top culinary destination. Louisiana peaches, pralines, sweet potatoes, and heirloom tomatoes are always in demand, along with quirky favorites like hot pepper jelly by Bonnecaze Farms, and breads from Challah At Me! Bread Company. And of course, there’s plenty of seafood, from Gulf shrimp to softshell crabs and crayfish. Stop by the Des Allemands Outlaw Katfish booth for some alligator and turtle meat.
5. DANE COUNTY FARMERS MARKET
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This Madison, Wisconsin mainstay bills itself as the largest producers-only market in the country, which means everything is guaranteed to be sold by the folks who grew, raised, and crafted each product. Cheese lovers will rejoice at the selection of cheddars, goudas, chevres, and gorgonzolas, as well as Wisconsin specialties like Tilston Point blu cheese and cheese curds courtesy of Hook’s Cheese. Flowers are another specialty, from houseplants to perennials, as well as a garden’s variety of fresh produce. With 300 vendors every week, you’re sure to find something that strikes your fancy.
6. PORTLAND FARMERS MARKET AT PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY
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In a city known for fussy foodies, this market upholds a high standard for quality and freshness. Come hungry and pick up a breakfast burrito from Enchanted Sun or a plate of biscuits and gravy from Pine State Biscuits, then get busy perusing the stalls. You’ll find a bounty of seasonal produce and humanely raised meats, along with pantry items like raw honey, hazelnuts, farm-fresh milk, and some of the best coffee Portland has to offer. The market runs every Saturday, and at various other locations throughout the city the rest of the week.
7. WOODMONT FARMERS MARKET
Although it only operates two months out of the year (June 29 to August 31 this year) and offers a smaller selection compared to other noteworthy markets, this one’s hard to beat on freshness and local values. Everything hails from tiny Connecticut, making the trip from farm (or ocean, or warehouse) to market a short one. Produce usually comes in straight from the field, while seafood arrives directly from trawlers in nearby Stonington. The curated selection also includes grass fed meats, personal care products, and even locally made treats for dogs and cats.
8. NASHVILLE FARMERS' MARKET
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Covering 16 acres in the heart of the Music City, this indoor-outdoor market runs seven days a week and offers a little bit of everything. The outdoor farm sheds feature seasonal produce, meats, and baked goods, as well as Southern-fried specialties like Papa’s Old-Fashioned Fried Pies and Professor Bailey’s Spicy Pimento Cheese. The indoor Market House, meanwhile, is the place to go for a meal or a snack, with food stands like Bella Nashville pizzeria and Music City Crepes lining the space. There’s also a weekly flea market and an educational garden for kids.
9. UNION SQUARE GREENMARKET
A green oasis in the middle of New York City, this bustling market—the flagship of GrowNYC’s Greenmarket system—showcases a constantly rotating selection of produce, meat, baked goods, beer, and wine. Education and outreach are also a major focus, with cooking classes and chef demonstrations taking place each week, along with donations to local food pantries. With more than 60,000 visitors each week, it can get crowded, but if you download the market’s app, you can cruise through like a pro.
10. LANCASTER CENTRAL MARKET
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Located in the heart of Amish country, Lancaster Central Market in Lancaster, Pennsylvania has been in business since 1757, making it the oldest continuously run farmers' market in the country. Tradition runs deep here: Some stands have operated for generations, and quirky regional favorites like scrapple (pork scraps and cornmeal) and chowchow (preserves made with spicy mustard and pickled vegetables) have stood the test of time. Yet the market is decidedly modern, too, with its renovated indoor space and embrace of international cuisine, from Thai to Greek and Middle Eastern. It’s a blend of old-world and new that you won’t find at most markets.
11. SANTA MONICA FARMERS' MARKET
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Los Angeles chefs have been frequenting this market for years. That’s due to the freshness and variety of the produce, including some of the country’s best citrus fruit as well as exotic choices like plumelos, pluots, guava, and papaya. It could also have something to do with the market’s stringent standards for vendors, which includes audits at the market as well as at the farm or production facility. SMFM runs every Saturday and Sunday, and also has a lively Wednesday market that spotlights a local restaurant each week.
12. ST. LOUIS METROMARKET
You won’t find this farmers market in the same location week in and week out. One of several nationwide efforts to deliver farm-fresh produce to underserved communities, the St. Louis MetroMarket operates out of a refitted city bus, where visitors can find bins of lettuce, squash, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, and apples. Started by a St. Louis University med student, the market promotes its selection by offering discounts and special recipes like sweet potato chili.
13. UNIVERSITY DISTRICT FARMERS MARKET
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Pike Place Market may be the most widely known Seattle market, but University District is the city’s oldest and largest, and it's an absolute hit with locals. Every Saturday you’ll find dozens of produce, meat, and seafood vendors hailing from the Puget Sound region. There are also plenty of specialty purveyors, like locally made Greek yogurt from Ellenos and CommuniTea Kombucha. Come early and work in a stroll around the University of Washington campus.
14. CHARLESTON FARMERS MARKET
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Open every Saturday from April through November in the heart of Charleston’s historic district, this southern favorite is equal parts produce stand, flea market, and culinary carnival. Fresh berries and peaches are a specialty, and crafty visitors will enjoy all the jewelry, pottery and handmade furniture on display. The real draw, though, is the delicious (and cleverly named) food stands, including barbecue from Right on Que, locally made popsicles from King of Pops, and gyros courtesy of Alexandra the Greek. Stands also offer an ample selection of Lowcountry classics like shrimp and grits and boiled peanuts.
15. DOWNTOWN FARMERS' MARKET
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Beginning every May and running through October, Des Moines's main outdoor market shows off the bounty of Iowa farm country. More than 300 vendors representing 58 counties are on display, offering everything from fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs to baked goods, meats, and even seafood. Interested to know what Iowa wine tastes like? You can find out. Street parking is free on market Saturdays, but with more than 20,000 visitors slated to show, you might consider biking it and using the bike valet at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Court Street.