16 great farmers’ markets

Farmers’ markets are not only a great way to sample a community’s natural bounty, they’re also a unique setting to experience its culture. While each farmers’ market is different, a really good farmers’ market brings a sense of community to the cities and municipalities where they operate. Wondering where you can experience some of the freshest produce, tastiest snacks and friendliest people across the country? Check out our picks for 16 of our favorites below.

Saint Louis – Soulard Farmer’s Market

The Soulard Farmers Market began in St. Louis in 1779, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers market west of the Mississippi. In addition to the fresh fruit, produce, baked goods and flowers, the market includes a craft and flea market in the two wings of an old train terminal. A bit “Old World” in atmosphere, shoppers can buy live chickens, barter with vendors and enjoy a festive, energetic atmosphere all year round.

Indianapolis – Indianapolis City Market
The Indianapolis City Market was built in 1886 and today includes an arts market on Saturday, a farmers’ market on Wednesdays, cooking classes and ethnic theme events that may focus on the foods of Asia one week or the spices of the Middle East the next. The common thread through it all is that homegrown goodness of corn, tomatoes and other produce from the soil of Indiana.

Madison, Wisconsin
The Madison Wisconsin Farmers Market fills the grounds of the state capitol building and draws a huge crowd to the pedestrian-only mall and shops nearby. Fresh produce is only part of the fun. One Saturday, Wisconsin’s famous dairy cows may be on display; at other times there might be an iron man competition underway. Since it’s the state capitol, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to sign a petition or happen to see an up-and-coming politician working the crowd.

Kansas City – City Market
Kansas City’s City Market
overflows with activity weekend mornings all year when as many as 10,000 people have been known to shop for produce and bedding plants one more, artwork on another and bargains from the community garage sale another weekend morning. Valet service is available for big purchases. Some of the city’s most prosperous farm-to-table restaurants have found a naturally successful home here.

Des Moines, Iowa
All products sold at the Des Moines Farmers Market must be grown within the state of Iowa and that means 160 or more booths carrying the freshest produce grown in some of the world’s best farmland. There are also hand-made items, such as dried flower arrangements, seed murals and wheat weaving. A miniature train for children is a standard fixture and most Saturday mornings, you’ll find musicians, clowns or dance troupes performing.

Woodstock, Illinois

Voted the best farmers market in the state of Illinois in 2008, the Woodstock Farmers Market could easily be called a “producers market” because everything must be grown, raised or made by the seller. Located on the town square of this historic community, shoppers are accompanied by folk music performed live from a nearby gazebo on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

Holland, Michigan

The Holland Michigan Farmers Market literally overflows with blueberries, cherries, strawberries and other fresh fruit from the fields of western Michigan. The market also carries farm fresh cheese, eggs, herbs and spices. In the craft area, handmade furniture is an unexpected treat. But just wandering the aisles, munching on freshly baked Danish and feeling the breeze from Lake Michigan is a treat in itself.

Columbus, Ohio – North Market
Columbus Ohio’s North Market comes with its own kitchen and James Beard-award winning chef to prepare meals right on the spot from items bought at the market. In addition to fresh dairy products, including ice cream, and prepared foods from international vendors, the North Market sells just the right utensils and cookware to bring any meal together.

Lincoln, Nebraska – Historic Haymarket
The Historic Haymarket in Lincoln, Nebraska was originally a place where livestock and produce were sold in the state capitol, but now it is the site of the trendiest restaurants and retail outlets in the city. Every Saturday morning from May to October, the activity jumps another notch when more than 200 of the Midwest’s best farmers bring their produce. It’s also the best place in the city for Kolaches and coffee.

Little Rock, Arkansas – River Market

As polished as any supermarket, the Little Rock Arkansas River Market, located in the historic Quapaw Quarter, is a year-round destination for ethnic cuisine, entertainment and in the summer months, some of Arkansas’ famous tomatoes and watermelons. Something is always happening at the adjacent park overlooking the Arkansas River, and just a few blocks from the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library.

— The above was written by Diana Lambdin Meyer, Seed contributor

Washington D.C. – Eastern Market

Casualty of a fire that ripped through the stalls in April of 2007, the historical Eastern Market has made a comeback and continues to serve meats, poultry, breads and gourmet goodies throughout the week in the South Hall, where many employees of nearby Capitol Hill migrate for lunch. On the weekends, stalls extend to the surrounding outdoor areas and offer antiques, crafts, photography, handmade jewelry and other collectibles. On our last visit, we purchased some vintage fruit labels and stocked up on distinctive greeting cards for less than a dollar apiece.

Santa Monica, California – Virginia Avenue Park
There are several markets that sprout up over the course of the week in this beach city. The best is the Saturday one in Virginia Avenue Park where weekly appearances are made by local restaurateurs featuring the best of their menus.

New York, NY – Union Square Greenmarket
One of the best markets in New York City is the Union Square Farmer’s Market, which extends the length of the west side of the square. Stalls are filled with local fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, poultry, fish, spices… just about anything you can imagine. At the tail end, you’ll find tables with artists selling their wares. We picked up some local goat cheese and wine, plus a hilarious comic-book version of the Grimm brother tales, handed to us directly by the author.

Chicago, IL – French Market
Inspired by European markets, the French Market was recently developed as an effort to promote community in the city. It’s located adjacent to the Ogilvie Transportation Center. The vendors sell delicious pastries and prepared foods as well as produce, meats, cheese and seafood. Grab some mussels and delicious Sicilian sandwiches before hopping on a train to the Chicago suburbs. Make sure to stop by Chicago’s world-renowned Green City Market while you’re in town.

— The above was written by M. Fuchsloch, Seed contributor

Portland, OR – Portland State University
Portland has long relished in its status as one of the country’s most eco-conscious, sophisticated food cities, and the town’s wealth of farmer’s markets certainly doesn’t disappoint. Each Saturday the shoppers of Portland flock to the grounds of Portland State University, home to Portland’s biggest and most famous of the city’s six recognized downtown markets.

San Francisco, CA – Ferry Building and Plaza
No list of farmers markets could be complete without mentioning this titan of the food world. Ground zero for the birth of slow food and much of the current revolution in local, organic eating sweeping the nation, San Francisco and the Bay Area is king and its historic Ferry Building and nearby Plaza Farmer’s Market is the capital building. Stop by for delicious favorites like locally produced cheeses, more mushrooms than you’ve ever seen and some tasty gelato.

Iowa road workers hungry after dropping garlic salt on their roads

It is cold outside. Very, very cold. This time of year road crews in the many parts of the country are working overtime to keep the ice and slush to a minimum, and that involves dropping massive amounts of salt on the asphalt.

If you live in the Des Moines suburb Ankeny you may have noticed a slightly more aromatic salt concoction being deposited.

When local spice manufacturer Tones tried to think of ways to help the local community, they decided to donate 9 tons of garlic salt to the road works department.

The funniest quote comes from one of the plow drivers, who says his dog starts licking his pants when he comes home at night, and that he’s constantly in the mood for a steak and baked potato.

With salt prices on the rise, I’m sure the donation was more than welcome. According to reports, road salt prices are up almost 300% compared to last year. If you do happen to be out in the snow and ice, please be careful, as these higher salt prices mean there won’t be as much of it on the ground to keep you safe!

Tour the U.S. on horse and feel better about the world

The story about Bill Inman, a rancher who is traveling across the U.S. on his faithful steed, Blackie, caught my attention. Inman’s stated purposeof this journey is to find out the good things about the America amid the bad news. The war in Iraq, the housing market bubble burst, the gas prices, etc., etc., etc. All of this what’s wrong news can make people feel downright crabby. Anyway, Inman thinks what we hear or read is too gloomy and wants to discover the sunnier side of life through his plodding travels. He travels about 25 miles a day. (photo by Charlie Riedel, AP)

So far, wherever he has stopped, he’s found people friendly. Although, one might say, people are friendly because of his horse. Maybe that’s true but I found a similar situation after I got back from the Peace Corps and I wasn’t traveling with a horse or even a small dog, a kid or a hamster. I was traveling with my close friend, a fellow RPCV (returned volunteer) whose mission was the same as mine. Let’s avoid getting real jobs for awhile and see the U.S. as a good reason for not earning a paycheck. Without a horse or a car, we relied on Greyhound (or Trailways) and in two cases Green Tortoise. Twice we found plane tickets cheaper than bus tickets.

We started our bus journey in Kentucky (we had car rides from New York (me) and Massachusetts (her) and zagging across the U.S., stopping to stay a night or two with relatives, relatives of relatives, friends, friends of friends, parents of friends and people we didn’t even know. We didn’t know anyone at the center for wayward women in Des Moines, Iowa. We weren’t even wayward women, but they let us stay. (Maybe we were wayward women but we didn’t know it.)

The point of this story is, we did not have one bad experience. Not one. We found people to be helpful, kind, and interested in us. People gave us rides to the bus station if we needed it. Offered us food and company and even a police whistle when we asked if the bus station in Denver was in a bad part of town. Perhaps, it helped that we told people that we had just finished serving in Africa for two years in the Peace Corps and that we were traveling across the U.S. to learn more about the wonders in our own country. (Okay, perhaps a bit thick, but it worked.) So, I found the U.S. to be a marvelous place–even Texas which was the place I expected not to like for some reason. I loved Austin and San Antonio. Still, I’ve found every country I’ve been to (and it’s a boat load) mostly marvelous. It helps to go into a place thinking you’ll find no different. At least, that has been my experience.

I hope Bill Inman keeps finding the same pleasant experiences that he has so far. I wonder how he’s getting home. He lives in Oregon. I flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico from Las Vegas, the last stop of my three month trip. I finally needed to get a job and Albuquerque seemed like a good place to land for awhile.

Oh, if you ever do make your own lengthy journey across the U.S., here’s a tidbit of advice. Go easy on the margaritas and ice-cream. It doesn’t take long to develop a paunch.