How to Find the Best Farmers' Markets (Plus a Free Cheat Sheet)
One of the top questions friends and family regularly ask me is: How do you find the best farmers' markets?
I currently have two favorite markets I shop at regularly: the Saturday market in our town, and the Forest Park Farmers' Market in Springfield, MA, which has about 30 vendors and where I can get almost anything we need. (Including Berkshire Mountain Bakery, which was featured on the Netflix series Cooked and has some seriously delicious bread. Their Bread & Chocolate sourdough loaf is to die for. Really. I can eat the whole thing in two days.)
There are a bunch of factors to finding the best and right farmers' market for you. Go through the list below, see what's available in your area, check them out, and hopefully you'll find some gems too!
I should also mention that as far as farmers' markets go, we are very lucky. We live in northern Connecticut, which is not only a historically agricultural area with lots of farms nearby, but we also have many markets to choose from. I'm not sure what it's like in the rest of the country (or the world), but in our region we can truly have our pick of some great markets.
One of the best ways to find farmers' markets near you is by looking online. While a market may not have its own website, you can do some detective work to find out the dates and times of markets closest to you.
If that doesn't bring up any results, enter your zip code into the USDA's local food directory. Take your results and do a Google search of the exact farmers' markets.
If that doesn't result in anything, type your town or city, state, and "farmers market" to see what comes up.
For farmers' markets that have websites, even better! Once you've found your local markets, check their sites for a list of vendors, market information, and news and resources.
And if all else fails, try contacting your town hall or Chamber of Commerce to ask about the local farmers' markets.
During college I found myself at the Saratoga Farmers' Market nearly every week because I could walk there from my apartment. When Josh and I lived in New York City we regularly attended the two Greenmarkets closest to our place — Tucker Square Greenmarket and 79th Street Greenmarket. And now I like to stick to markets that are within about a 20 minute drive, since I find myself at farmers' markets multiple times a week.
Decide what is reasonable for your trip to the farmers' market. 10 minutes? 20? 30? This will depend on whether you take public transportation or bike or drive, and how often you plan to shop at a given market.
Usually the farthest I'll travel to a farmers' market is about 30 minutes, unless I hear about a special market that is worth a longer trip (Coventry Farmers' Market — I'm looking at you!).
When I go to a market I know what I want — lots of veggie and fruit options, dairy, eggs, a bakery, and maple syrup and honey. I'm not into crafts and handmade stuff (unless it's the holiday season, then maybe). My farmers' markets need to have items that we eat regularly, and also have some fun speciality or heirloom items that I'll either buy or just check out to learn about them.
What items do you want to buy at a farmers' market?
Some possible ideas include:
Plants and flowers
Baked goods and grains
I'll happily spend five dollars on a quart of local strawberries, or I'll spend nearly six dollars on a loaf of my beloved Bread & Chocolate. Then there are other items, like greens, that I prefer to get for a bargain price.
How much are you willing to spend on food? And are there certain items you'll splurge on?
Some markets are known to have great prices, while others are more expensive, and this can also depend on the market's location and clientele. It's often helpful to browse the whole market to see what the prices are like from various vendors, and then go back to do your shopping.
Many markets also accept EBT (food stamps), and many have incentives for people using EBT at the market. Stop by the market's information tent to learn more about this option.
CERTIFIED ORGANIC VS CONVENTIONAL
Do you only buy organic? Or maybe you aim to only buy organic for produce that's known to be high in pesticides?
If certified organic is important to you, you'll want to find farmers' markets with at least one organic grower. Sometimes a market won't have an organic vendor, but they may have a certified naturally grown farm, or a small farm that grows organically but can't afford to pay for the organic certification fees.
One of the best things about buying at a farmers' market is that you can often speak directly to the growers to find out how they manage pests and weeds, and whether they use chemicals. Or if you feel shy or nervous about talking directly to the farmers, look for an information tent to ask the market manager about farms' growing practices.
Also, by buying local, there are usually less pesticides and preservatives on the food, since it isn't traveling very far before getting eaten.
Lastly, get a feel for a market's atmosphere.
Some markets are small and intimate, while others are large and have lots of options. There are urban, suburban, and rural farmers' markets. There are markets with live music, markets set up on a sidewalk or ones that set up in grass or in parks, and markets that allow dogs. In New York City there were markets geared towards commuters passing by quickly, and community markets that had kids programs and lots of food demonstrations.
Visit the farmers' markets near you to find your own favorites!