Best of Fresh: 25 Unique Farmers Markets Across the U.S.

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Not everyone has access to a plot of fertile land or has the skills, patience, or time to grow their own food. Still, the desire for freshly grown food is on the rise -- along with the popularity of farmers markets. Long gone are the days when these markets -- or, more often, scatterings of roadside stands -- were lonely affairs with a few shoppers poking around. Today, farmers markets are found in small towns and big cities alike, in variations that run from multi-day productions to once-a-week pop-ups. It’s a healthy byproduct of the increased awareness of healthier eating, support for small and independent businesses, and, of course, a renewed appreciation for all things handcrafted and artisan made. Go-to destinations for locals, farmers markets also offer visitors a great and often inexpensive way to get a real taste of a town, city, or entire region. To whet your appetite, here are a few of the most unique farmers markets across the nation.

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Exotic goods from around the world along with souvenirs from Alaska vie for attention among the array of fresh produce and traditional goods at the Anchorage Market & Festival. In a central downtown location, this mega-market is billed as featuring some 300 vendors who offer their products over 7 acres (so wear comfy shoes). It attracts locals and tourists alike, and related events such as the Bear Paw Festival add to the fun nearby.

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Like any major city, Boston has dozens of farmers market that fill the appetite for the best of each season. Check out the Boston Public Market, an indoor, year-round operation designed to spotlight “locally sourced groceries and specialty agricultural products.” With nearly 40 vendors offering, literally, everything from soup to nuts, the site has a 3,200-square-foot kitchen to host cooking demonstrations, family events, lectures, exercise classes, and more. The market also offers a programming lineup jam-packed with special events and promotions, including putting the spotlight on healthy eating.
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Visitors and locals flock to the Burlington Farmers Market, one of the oldest and largest in the state. A year-round affair with both outdoor (since 1980) and indoor (since 2008) sites, each market features selections only produced, grown, or crafted in Vermont. And that includes carrots and whoopee pies, maple syrup and knitwear, pottery and homemade root beer. And, of course, there’s a hearty share of Vermont’s signature cheeses, with fresh, aged and ripened selections at the ready.
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A bounty of farmers markets in this region gives visitors a real taste of New England. Although the options are plenty, try the Sandwich Farmers Market, which fills the village green with farm-fresh fruits and vegetables along with meats, honey, spices, and flowers. It’s long been known as the place to grab some barbecue, wine, and, at times, fresh Atlantic lobsters, along with soaps, crafts, and gift items.
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Talk about a community affair. The Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market, is a draw, to say the least. Attracting an average of 14,000 patrons (twice a month June through September), some 200 Iowa vendors offer their wares in what’s become one of the largest open-air markets in the Midwest. Offerings include not only produce, meat and dairy products, and baked goods but also artisan gifts, entertainment, children’s activities, and cooking demonstrations with assistance from local high-school students. This season, a community mural project will be unveiled at the last market of the season. And be sure to check out the Market After Dark programming.
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Aspiring performers have the chance to take the stage each weekend at the Logan Square Farmers Market, one of countless farmers markets throughout the city. Operated year-round, the market encourages acoustic performances with preference given to performers with local ties. Who knows? You may hear a folk icon in the making as you shop for fresh flowers, homemade salsa, pickled mushrooms, or "the best ever grilled cheese," with selections that change based on fresh market ingredients.
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Everyone knows Cleveland rocks. It is, after all, the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But it’s also got a pretty rockin’ farmers-market scene. Check out the North Union Farmers Market, with multiple locations and a long history in the Local Food movement. The current vendors are listed by category: artists, bakers, and farmers. That pretty much covers all the bases.
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Want a bit of attitude with your veggies? Check out the Colorado Farm and Art Market, which encourages visitors to “Get fresh with a (Colorado) farmer.” At the two sites in Colorado Springs, find farm fresh eggs from free-range, organically fed chickens, grass-fed beef, and raw milk, along with unique jewelry, wearable art, and creations in glass. Also find prepared foods ranging from vegan tamales to pickled peppers to a cup of coffee worth lingering over, prepared with Fair Trade coffee beans roasted right in town.
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They do it big in Texas. For evidence, look no further than the Dallas Farmers Market, a 26,000-square-foot food hall and artisanal vendor market that is open daily and comes complete with anchor restaurants and local, specialized food vendors offering everything from popcorn to Cajun fare. The Shed at the Dallas Farmers Market, an open-air pavilion open three days a week, puts the spotlight on farmers with seasonal produce; on ranchers who offer naturally raised meats; on cheeses, eggs, and honey; and on select artisans who make breads, canned goods, and regional -- and international -- specialties.
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Why limit yourself? Detroit’s Eastern Market is a Saturday ritual where up to 150 vendors (during peak months) offer a bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables along with handcrafted food products and the work of local artists and musicians. But don’t buy your veggies and go home. The true experience comes from exploring the surrounding blocks, filled with all kinds of restaurants and other food-related businesses, as well as boutiques and artistic destinations. Related festivals and special events tie it all together and make a trip more than worthwhile.
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If you’re thinking the farmers markets in Hawaii are all about pineapples, you’re wrong. The handful of markets promoted by the Hawaii Farm Bureau dash any clichéd thoughts and befit a vacationer's paradise. Take the lineup at a recent Honolulu market, where local farmers and producers were featuring everything from Italian parsley to Indian curry, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts to taro, local saltwater shrimp to seasonal tropical juices, and papaya to herbal teas, with all ingredients grown on the Big Island. In addition to weekend markets, there are evening hours during the week.
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Historic Haymarket Farmers Market is a Saturday family favorite that spreads blocks and blocks through the capital city. During the peak season, from mid-June to mid-August, up to 200 vendor stalls offer everything from radishes to processed buffalo meat. Those less daring can stick to the baked goods or kettle corn as they peruse “innovative arts and crafts” or take in a live performance.
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Tap into the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition with the year-round Lancaster Central Market at Penn Square, where shoppers become “a part of living history.” This is the place believed to be America’s oldest farmers market building, with local farmers bringing meats and vegetables to the site since the 1730s. In fact, many of today’s farmers trace their own market roots back more than a century. And the shopper benefits from this grand tradition with a pick of locally grown fruits and vegetables, fresh-baked goods, cheeses, flowers, and crafts.
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Forget the veggies; let’s dance! The live music and dancing at the Original Farmers Market in LA recently caught some media attention. But that’s nothing new for this Southern California stalwart that traces its roots back to 1934. Over the years, the notables dropping by have ranged from Shirley Temple to Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra to the Beatles, and even U.S. presidents. Today, it remains a notable destination for the famous -- and regular folks -- who visit to pick up ice cream or pie, fruits or vegetables, seafood, French pastries, or meat cut fresh by the butcher. With plenty of special events, such as an auto show, and a near-constant buzz of activity, the market is also a popular destination for food-themed filming or as the bustling backdrop for late-night comedy bits.
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The Coconut Grove Saturday Organic Farmers Market, presented by Glaser Organic Farms, has attracted a national following with its commitment to organic fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and seeds and raw vegan foods. But that’s not to say it’s a dour affair -- as a glance at the extensive salad bar or a taste of raw-food pizza or dairy-free ice cream will attest.
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Farmers and shoppers traveled by horse and cart to the 19th-century precursor to the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Today, those in search of everything from rutabagas to gladiolas can find what they want from some 230 vendors. Questions aren't only tolerated but encouraged. Ask how to cook those mushrooms or nurture that plant. And be sure to pick up one of the market’s signature items. A recent event unveiled the winner of the annual reusable bag design contest.
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Anchored by two farm sheds and a middle market area that can host five to 100 farmers depending on the season, the Nashville Farmers Market is a true destination. Complete with a Market House of restaurants and shops (with a place to take cooking classes) and a craft and flea shed, this market is a place to spend some time. Special events, from nighttime markets with live jazz and seasonal cocktails to strawberry festivals, add to the mix.
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Farm-fresh vegetables, artisan breads, and piquant pickles aren’t necessarily what spring to mind when someone mentions New York City. But thanks to Greenmarket Farmers Markets, the City That Never Sleeps is also a city in search of what’s new, fresh, and trendy from nearby farms. Founded in 1976, Greenmarket now offers some 50-plus markets throughout the five boroughs. Perhaps the most famous of the bunch is the flagship market in Union Square in the heart of Manhattan, where patrons can not only grab some honey, fish, or freshly made cheese but rub shoulders with Broadway performers, rock-and-rollers (yes, they eat healthy, too), and Michelin-star chefs shopping for seasonal menus.
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The Crescent City Farmers Market is operated at four locations on four different days of the week. Talk about options -- handpicked producers and fishers, health-oriented programming and quite a few sightings of “rock star chefs” shopping for their restaurants or promoting their cookbooks. When you’ve a craving for Gulf shrimp, pralines, heirloom Southern vegetables, or, sometimes, alligator, these markets have you covered. And don’t forget the annual autumn Moonlight Market, a mega-event that’s also an annual fundraiser featuring the city’s best restaurants, specialty cocktails, local beer, and live music.
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This family-friendly Jersey Shore town puts a unique spin on the genre, offering a Farmers Crafters Market weekly in season. Its lineup, which puts fresh fruits, vegetables, and food products on offer along with artistic handcrafted goods, has prompted at least one visitor to comment that she wished she could shop for veggies and tchotchkes there every day.
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Ever hear of a farmers market with its own cookbook? Well, the Portland Farmers Market has produced one in celebration of its 25th season. A nonprofit operating at seven sites, the Portland Farmers Market features the best of Oregon and southwest Washington not only from farms and bakeries but also meat and seafood providers, cheese makers, and creators of specialty food products. The year-round operation includes participation from some 200 vendors, along with specialty programming such as a dining series (hosted by chefs from top local restaurants) and music.
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Anyone who has visited St. Michaels will never forget it. It’s a place that combines stellar scenery with from-another-era charm. The St. Michaels FreshFarm Market only adds to the appeal. Decidedly small-town, it’s part of the nonprofit FreshFarm Markets’ mission to “build and strengthen the local, sustainable food movement in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.” A producer-only market, it’s a place to find everything from duck eggs to fresh greens to artisan goods, along with coffee from the evocatively named Blue Heron Coffee.
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Farm-to-table is a way of life in the City by the Bay, and San Francisco's numerous farmers markets reflect the diversity found on every street. Perhaps the most famous is the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, which runs three days a week throughout the year and provides goods to more than 300 area chefs through its Market to Chef program. Visitors are impressed by the diverse offerings from cutting-edge growers and producers who keep sustainability in mind. Saturdays, the largest of the three days, can draw some 100 vendors with varied options including dried pasta, olive oil, avocados, sprouts, smoked salmon, quail, mushrooms, tofu, figs, and granola.
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Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets operates seven locations throughout the city. The choices vary and might include everything from sustainable seafood to artisan cheeses to tulips. And how can you not love the sound of the Zucchini 500? This race at several of the markets encourages kids to play with their food -- and maybe pick up some healthy eating habits along the way.
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Want a market with a vivid sense of history? How about one that has a call out to nearby vineyards to showcase their wine and mead, an ancient beverage made from fermented honey? The Williamsburg Farmers Market sets up shop in Merchant’s Square in Colonial Williamsburg on Saturdays to reach an audience of locals and tourists from around the world. Shoppers perusing the 40 or so vendors will quickly see it’s all about produce, prepared foods, and farm-related products made in Virginia. And there's live music to keep it hopping.