In most parts of the country, summer is the best time of year to visit your local farmers market. Not only will you find the widest variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and local delicacies as you stroll among the stalls, but you'll also find some of the best deals on produce around. Add to that the fact that everything being sold is often virtually farm-to-your-hand fresh and you've got a recipe for a great summer trip to the local stand. Although nearly all major metropolitan areas (and quite a few smaller ones as well) have farmers markets, these nine have become destinations in their own right.
1. Lancaster Central Market (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
Located in the heart of Amish country, Lancaster's Central Market is proud to tout their title of the nation's oldest farmer's market – at over 275 years running! Opened Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays all year long, the market showcases regional specialties like Pennsylvania Dutch Sausage, headcheese (that isn't cheese at all), and scrapple (a breakfast meat).
2. Portland Farmers Market (Portland, Oregon)
Arguably the nation’s best farmers market, the Portland Farmers Market attracts more than 30,000 shoppers on a weekly basis to its eight locations. But, it’s the Portland State University market that gets – and deserves – the accolades. More than 130 farmers and vendors sell fresh produce, Dungeness crab, exotic meats like buffalo and yak, baked goods, and artisanal cheese.
3. Union Square Greenmarket (New York City)
Held four days a week, the Union Square Greenmarket attracts 60,000 New Yorkers, chefs, and tourists. You’ll find typical offerings like tomatoes, carrots, and legumes alongside pea shoots, black currants, and nearly 90 varieties of apples in season. Be on the lookout, too, for emu eggs, wild-caught squid, maple syrup, and ciders.
4. Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (San Francisco)
Eight-five vendors set up in front of the Ferry Building and the rear plaza overlooking the Bay on Saturday mornings for the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Come early for olives, wild game, fresh oysters, artisanal cheeses, homemade biscuits, empanadas, and more. If you visit or live in Southern California instead, stop by the Santa Monica Farmers Market, a favorite with Los Angeles’ top chefs.
5. Green City Market (Chicago)
The Green City Market started small with just nine local farmers selling produce next to the Chicago Theatre in 1998 and has grown to a 55-stall market operating at the South end of Lincoln Park during the summer, and inside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum during the winter. In addition to micro-greens, cucumbers and the like, watch for elk meat, crackers, and even locally-produced, single-barrel whiskey.
6. Downtown Farmers’ Market (Des Moines, Iowa)
On Saturdays from May through October, the Downtown Farmers’ Market in Des Moines occupies a stretch along Historic Court Avenue. Roughly 200 vendors come from 51 counties all across Iowa to sell fresh produce, locally-raised meat (from rabbit to tilapia!), crafts, artwork, and jewelry.
7. University District Farmers Market (Seattle, Washington)
Seattle boasts seven neighborhood markets, but the University District's is the largest and most popular. A food-and-farmer-only market that doesn’t sell crafts or non-food items, the University District Farmer's Market is known for its fresh seafood and the wild mushrooms, including chanterelles, truffles, morels and fiddleheads, foraged from surrounding forests.
8. Boulder Farmers’ Market (Boulder, Colorado)
Predominantly organic, the Boulder Farmers’ Market specializes in unique and heirloom produce such as golden beets, white eggplant, purple beans, and seedless yellow watermelon. Of course, you can also purchase free range meat, roasted chiles, honey, fresh eggs, and wine as you enjoy live music.
9. Santa Fe Farmers Market (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Approximately 50 years old, the Santa Fe Farmers Market has more than 150 active vendors selling fresh vegetables and fruit, dried chiles, lavender, honey, buffalo, and more. What really sets it apart, though, is the commitment to the "local" concept. One hundred percent of the vegetables and fruits and at least 80 percent of the ingredients used to make other items such as jams, spice blends, and crafts come from the 15 counties of northern New Mexico.
What's your favorite farmers market? Tell us below!