Top 10 farmers markets in U.S.

There’s an innate pleasure to eating seasonally, especially this time of year, when berries, stonefruit, peppers, corn, and tomatoes are at their peak. Farmers markets are one of the best ways to enjoy these ingredients, not only because they afford the chance to connect with growers, ranchers, fishermen, and food artisans, but also because they’re a window into the soul of a community.

I’ll be the first to admit I can’t afford to buy all of my groceries from my local market, and I get toilet paper and other household essentials from generic grocery chains. In our present era of food-related pretense, being on a first-name basis with your local farmer has become a form of culinary oneupmanship. Forget all that. The best reason to shop local and grower-direct, besides supporting family farms and local food security, is that you have access to fresh food, which is higher in nutrients, and often just tastes better. The bonus is usually a lively scene, with music, cooking demonstrations, tastings, and seasonal events.

Based on my ten years of working at markets in various states, below are my picks for the top ten farmers markets in the nation. I’ve based my criteria on their “green,” growers only (i.e., vendors must sell their own product and adhere to sustainable practices) policies, diversity and quality of product, and community involvement. If a visit to one of these markets isn’t on your Labor Day travel itinerary, not to worry. With over 5,000 markets operating throughout the U.S., there’s sure to be one near you.1. San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market

Top honors go to this thriving market for its gorgeous food displays, Bayside location, and nationally-acclaimed educational programs. Taste olive oil, cheese from Andante Dairy, June Taylor’s heirloom fruit preserves, and Marshall’s Farm Honey, and ogle the exquisite produce from Knoll Tairwa Farm and Dirty Girl Produce. Afterward, stroll the adjoining Ferry Building Marketplace and visit permanent shops from some of the state’s top food artisans.

2. Union Square Greenmarket, New York

The ultimate urban market boasts everything from Blue Moon’s spanking fresh Atlantic seafood, and artisan cheeses from Cato Corner Farm and Bobolink Dairy, to farmstead maple products and a staggering array of apples and cider from Upstate. Go with ample empty shopping bags; you’ll want souvenirs.

3. Santa Fe Farmers Market, New Mexico

Alongside pristine, high desert-grown produce, you’ll find Native American growers from local pueblos selling grassfed buffalo and heirloom crops descended from 300-year old indigenous seed stock; dried posole, and more varieties of dried chile than you knew existed. Come with an empty stomach, so you have room for tamales, bomber breakfast burritos, or goat milk fudge.

4. Boulder Farmers Market, Colorado

Regional farmers prove that a short growing season can still be spectacular in the form of red sunchokes, fingerling potatoes, maroon heirloom carrots, and peaches to die for from Morton’s Orchards. A kaleidoscope of cut flowers and an adjoining prepared food section make this bustling market a colorful-and delicious- community hot spot.

5. Berkeley Farmers Market, California

Although just 13 miles across the Bay from San Francisco, this revered urban market has a distinct flavor all it’s own. Grab a rustic loaf from Brickmaiden Breads, pâté or charcuterie from Fatted Calf, cheese from Redwood Hill Farm, and some produce, and you have the ultimate picnic.

6. Dane County Farmers Market, Madison, Wisconsin

Even in frigid winters, this college town market keeps on, providing hearty fare such as artisan brats and sausages, rabbit, delicate Fantôme Farm chevre, honey, and sweet, Northern European-style baked goods. This time of year, expect an abundance of produce, including cherries, elderberries, foraged hickory nuts, and other wild foods.

7. Seattle “U-District” Market

Seattle’s most popular neighborhood market is “farmers only,” meaning it’s limited to food products. It hosts over 50 regional growers who gather to sell free-range eggs, hard cider, hazelnuts, a multitude of berries, foraged mushrooms and other wild foods, goat meat, fresh and smoked salmon, and native geoduck clams.

8. Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market, Washington DC

Credited with teaching Washingtonians to add produce to their agendas, this immesely popular, yearround market offers a regular “Chef in Market” program, and sells everything from ice cream and handcrafted soap to meat, seafood, pasta, and cow, goat, and sheep’s milk cheeses. Most of the product comes from the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and is grown, raised, or caught within a 150-mile radius.

9. Austin Farmers Market, Texas

This beloved market is limited to local (within 150 miles) farms, and boasts a distinct Southwestern flavor. Pick up Creole pralines, pecans, heirloom zipper, cream, black-eyed, and purple peas, then dive into locally made empanadas and Oaxacan and Cuban food.

10. Kapiolani Community College (KCC) Farmers Market, Honolulu, Hawaii

Co-sponsored by the Hawaii Farm Bureau and the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at KCC, Oahu’s most thriving market requires growers to be in attendance, and provides locals and tourists with a real taste of the islands. Purchase grassfinished beef from Haleiwa’s North Shore Cattle Company, farm-raised moi (a tasty, white-fleshed fish once reserved for Hawaiian royalty), Molokai purple sweet potatoes, vanilla beans grown by the Big Island’s Hawaiian Vanilla Co., and produce like taro, lilikoi (passion fruit), and guava. Finish up with a plate lunch of kalua pig and lau lau, and prepare to tackle a hike on nearby Diamond Head to burn off the calories.

Listen up: America’s top 10 outdoor concert venues

Outdoor arenas, beach-side stages, amphitheaters under the stars – the sounds of summer are everywhere, you just have to buy a ticket. So where do you go to hear the best music and see the best concerts? Next time you want a little groove in your summer night, take a trip to one of the top outdoor music venues in America and enjoy the sounds of summer.

Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh, New York.
The primary summer stop for every major act in the New York Metropolitan area. Everyone from Phish to Rush has rocked the beach. The stage is surrounded by the open water of New York‘s Great South Bay. Boats often cruise close for a listen.

The Greek Theatre, Berkeley, California. The “home field” of the good ol’ Grateful Dead is in California. Stunning acoustics, the mellowest, intimate crowds and that unique University vibe – it’s on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. Home to the annual Berkeley Jazz Festival.

The Gorge Amphitheater, George, Washington. Perfectly situated over the Columbia River, The Gorge Amphitheater in Washington is widely regarded as the most inviting outdoor venue in the country. Scenery, sound and weather are routinely picture perfect. Pearl Jam recorded their monstrous box set here.

Buckeye Lake Music Center, Hebron, Ohio. Thanks to a steep open-air “mountainside”, a rainy night turns this Oregon Ohio concert venue into a true mudslide/madhouse. Spacious camping and tailgating scenes outside make this venue a total summer free-for-all.Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga, New York. Security is mellow here and the scene outside is always friendly. The venue itself features a well covered and expansive pavilion with open lawn seating behind it. Frequenters include James Taylor, Carly Simon and Carole King.

Summerstage, Central Park, New York City. “Hot town, summer in the city…” A truly intimate outdoor venue, if there is such a thing. Tucked away in a corner of the park on the Upper East Side, surrounded by trees and wonderful breezes is Summerstage in New York City. Once the gig ends, you can spill out into the streets of the greatest city in the world to keep the party going.

Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland. Wide open green spaces, surrounded on all sides by breezy trees and forest of the most pristine variety. The venue itself is small but has great acoustics. For sonic reference, dig The Jerry Garcia Band’s recorded and released performance.

Alpine Valley Music Theater, East Troy, Wisconsin
. Wisconsin in the summertime equals bright sun, low humidity, and clean air, which makes for an awesome evening under the stars at Alpine Valley. Every major rock act you can think of swings through during the summer, including Dave Matthews, who has long considered it his favorite place to play.

Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, Colorado. The mecca of American outdoor music, this venue is embedded in multi-hued mountains and stone monoliths, surrounded by breathtaking views of..well…the red rocks of Colorado. It’s acoustically perfect and a majestic experience. U2’s legendary documented performance still sets the standard.

Drew Moss is a contributor.

Corn Palace to the Jolly Green Giant: 10 Midwest roadside attractions you must see

America’s heartland is home to plentiful crops, rolling hills and orange sunsets. You can find a Dairy Queen next to a cherry tree and park yourself in front of a drive-in movie on a hot summer night. There’s also the world’s largest bottle of ketchup, and enchanted highway and the Jolly Green Giant…. wait, what?

It’s true, travelers. The Midwest is home to many quirky attractions that might seem downright weird, but make for great roadside fun. Here are 10 that are worthy of your time:

World’s Largest Catsup Bottle – Collinsville, Illinois
Along the Mississippi River in tiny Collinsville, Illinois, stands the world’s largest catsup bottle. It was built in 1949 and used to serve as a water tower for the Catsup factory that once existed there. The Catsup tower is 170 feet tall and located next to Route 159.

Dorothy’s House and the Land of Oz – Liberal, Kansas
Whether you’re a fan of The Wizard of Oz or simply appreciate the classic film, dropping by this Land of Oz museum is a must. This roadside attraction is located in Liberal, Kansas and visitors can tour a replica of Dorothy’s house in addition to the actual Land of Oz. Don’t forget to say hello to the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow.

Jolly Green Giant – Blue Earth, Minnesota

Even those who aren’t a fan of vegetables will be mesmerized by this 60 foot tall replica of the Jolly Green Giant. It rests alongside I-90 and Highway 169 in Blue Earth, Minnesota and was built in 1979 to celebrate the city’s canning business.Enchanted HighwayRegent, North Dakota
This 32 mile stretch off I-94 in North Dakota is appropriately dubbed the Enchanted Highway. It was designed by Gary Greff, a ND inhabitant, who wanted to improve the tourism business in the state. The highway features a variety of quirky sculptures, including a giant family made of tin and massive statues of insect and animals.

World’s Largest Easel / Van Gogh replica – Goodland, Kansas
Located along I-70 in the town of Goodland, Kansas passers by can ooh and ah over a 768-square foot replica of Van Gogh’s Three Sunflowers. In addition to being the world’s largest Van Gogh reproduction, it’s also the world’s largest easel.

The House on the Rock – Spring Green, Wisconsin

It may seem a bit dangerous, but don’t be fooled. the House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin is home to an eclectic collection of armor, pipe organs, the world’s largest carousel, fiberglass elephants and pretty much anything else your brain can think up. The house itself is perched atop a rock (hence the name) and located at 5754 Hwy. 23, Spring Green Wisconsin.

The Corn Palace – Mitchell, South Dakota
If there’s one thing the Midwest is especially known for, it’s got to be its infinite supply of corn. Visit the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota and you’ll have all the proof you need. The entire palace-shaped building is constructed of thousands of bushes of corn, grass and grains and is re-furbished annually.

Precious Moments Chapel – Carthage, Missouri
Collector or not, the Precious Moments Chapel is definitely worth checking out. It’s located in Carthage, Missouri and consists of dozens of Precious Moments statues and paintings in and around the chapel. Visitors can stop by from 9 to 5 p.m. on 4321 S. Chapel Road off I-44.

Villisca Ax Murder House – Villisca, Iowa
The Ax Murder House in Villisca, Iowa is coined one of the scariest places on Earth for a good reason. There, an unknown butcher is said to have crept into the house (owned by Josia Moore) to kill Moore, his wife and their six children. The house, located at 323 East 4th. Street, has since turned into a reportedly haunted museum.

Heidelberg Project – Detroit, Michigan
The Heidelberg Project, located at 3600 Hedelberg Street in Detroit, is just as cool-looking as it is beneficial to the Earth. It’s essentially a giant sculpture made of random trash and debris. The urban junkscape consists of cars painted and filled with trashed stuffed animals, painted pieces of plywood and an entire house decorated with brightly colored rubbish.

Wendy Gould is a writer

Three Midwest parks to cater to your summertime plans

The Midwest may not have the mega-parks of the National Park Service, but they’ve got something you won’t find at top tourist attractions: solitude. You won’t find huge waterfalls or towering mountains in the midwest, but then again, you also won’t have to wait in line for jockey for a camping space. You’ll find peace, quiet and an abundance of wildlife often unappreciated. If you’re looking for something a little different this summer, take a drive through America’s heartland and check out these three midwest parks:

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Harpers Ferry, Iowa
There is a small exhibit area with a movie theater and plenty of very knowledgeable rangers in Effigy Mountains. The hiking trails that cover the area take you past American Indian mounds and deposit you on rocky outcroppings overlooking the majestic Mississippi River. Eagles, egrets, herons and hawks regularly fly the skies in this area and you might run into a few deer while you hike. The trails are moderately strenuous and some are handicap accessible. Make sure to take You must go to Firepoint, if it’s possible. On inclement days, this trail is often closed but the view is stellar. Camping is not allowed at the park, but there are many campsites in the area. Saint Croix National Scenic River, Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin
In the fall the colors of the trees along this river will take your breath away. Largely unknown, even in the area, this area offers camping, hiking and canoeing with an eye toward complete immersion in nature. I recommend starting at the beginning, at the park headquarters in St. Croix Falls. In the summer, the park gets crowded, especially on weekends, and camping space is on a first come, first serve basis. Cell phone service is dicey in the area, but that’s part of the appeal. Keep an eye out for eagles, as well as fish, deer, bats and more stars than you’ve ever seen in the night sky.

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Empire, Michigan
Hiking in the sand is completely different from hiking trails in the forest. For starters, regular hiking boots feel like dead weight while climbing the dunes of this magnificent park. Start at the visitor center in Empire. Get a map and your bearings and head out along the scenic drive. Read all the information and follow the trails where you can. Admire the changes in the flora between the parking lot and the lakeshore. Be careful, because on really windy days, it can feel like you’re being sandblasted. There are tours available to two adjacent islands and a lighthouse (not often seen in the midwest). The park is open all year and the dunes are beautiful in every season.

Deb Montague is a writer.

Top five weekend travel media stories

Here are five interesting stories from this weekend’s newspaper travel sections around the world.

1. In Melbourne’s the Age, Andrew West writes about a fabulous train journey from Jakarta to Yogyakarta to Surabaya and then back to Jakarta.

2. Sophie Cooke extols the pleasures of Sarajevo and rural Bosnia in the Guardian.

3. In the New York Times, Jaime Gross spends 36 hours in Salt Lake City and fills readers in on the buzz on SLC’s new organic dining scene.

4. Jay Jones does the Wisconsin artisan cheese tour circuit for the Los Angeles Times.

5. In the Globe and Mail, Bonny Reichert writes an ode to backcountry canoeing and camping in Ontario’s Algonquin Park.

(Image: Flickr/johovac)