Farmer’s markets inspire me! I love everything about what they represent especially the seasonal markets that are made up of mostly producers.If you want to see the flavor and get the feel of a region then one of the best ways is to visit the local farmers market. A market in Central PA will look completely different from a market in Mid-Coastal Maine, and even more different then a market in the South of France or Italy. It’s truly an opportunity to meet the locals, experience the flavors, and get the authentic vibe of the area.
There are many different types of farmers markets.You have your year round indoor markets that often consist of farmers and other types of vendors. These can look very different from the seasonal markets because the vendors must pay rent all year long and need to sell products, whether they are in season or not, in order to pay the rent. At these markets you may find oranges and bananas even if they are not local. Often there are more prepared food vendors and this can be fun to experience. You may find more trinkets and non-food items like jewelry and pottery, which can also be fun. Then you have your seasonal markets that usually consist of local farmers and producers who grow their crops and sell them while they are in season. They pick or make them close to market day and bring their harvest to sell. You get super fresh fruits and vegetables that taste sun-kissed and nutrient rich. Thankfully the seasons are consistently getting longer as farmers invest in high tunnels where they can extend the growing season in colder regions.
So here it is February and I find myself looking forward to the upcoming market season. My favorite markets are the local, seasonal markets because they help keep me in touch with the seasons. I’d rather see the producers sell minimal amounts of strawberries that they grew in their garden then to have them supplement with giant berries that traveled here from California (organic or not). Visiting a local farmers market can get you in tune to the vibration of the region and help introduce you to the flavor of the people. Depending on the climate of the area, you can get an insight into all the different kinds of vegetables and fruits that are available. The local cheeses, meats of choice, baked goods, and tools all vary with the region you visit. Of course, these in turn affect the type of cuisine that the locals eat. Talking to the vendors about their products is always an enlightening experience because they are usually so passionate about what they do and love to inform the shopper. Remembering that this is their livelihood makes us honor the commitment all the more.
Coming to the markets in Central PA will bring you our traditional vegetables like zucchini, corn, peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, squashes & pumpkins. But we also have the unique presence of a large Amish community which introduces our much loved whoopie pies, shoefly pie, sticky buns, pretzels, and succotash to name a few. It’s always a family affair with the little ones running around barefoot and helping out with the workload at the market. Central Market in Lancaster is one of the oldest operating markets in the country. My favorite seasonal market is, of course, the market that I manage and that’s The Farmers Market in Hershey. We are a producer only market and have some of the best vendors from the Central Pa area. We have managed to bring on local producers of grassfed beef, organic produce, pastured poultry products and eggs, homemade baked breads, raw cheeses and dairy, local wine, local condiments, spices, and hummus, and even healthy soaps and a local lavender farm. It’s a great community affair with a summer concert series and children’s programs where anyone visiting can get a feel for the locals.
Go to Rockland, Maine and you’ll find their Thursday market right down by the rocky coast in the harbor with sailboats rocking in the background and the smell of sea air all around. There I tasted the most delicious homemade clam chowder, bought some Maine potatoes and discovered the most amazing fish vendors who had organized a CSA for fish which is called a “community supported fishery” (CSF). How remarkable! They had organic ice cream from a truck and homemade pizza made on a portable brick oven. After a delicious experience at the market, I walked up the street to a local restaurant that won the throw down with Bobby Flay for the best lobster club sandwich ever.(Sorry, no names. I need to keep it a secret so that it’s not overly crowded when I go next year).
Now head across the Atlantic to Nice, in the South of France and you’ll find a whole new world for the senses. It’s not hard to be enticed by the delicious array of local olives in every color; spiced, brined and plain. There are rows of oranges and lemons just picked from the trees. The fresh, raw cheeses made from goat, cow and sheep’s milk are displayed with pride in long rows. I usually succumb to the temptation to buy one of each, along with a freshly made baguette, maybe radishes and a bottle of wine, and head for the nearest beach, field, or bench for a delicious market snack. There is a sublime aroma of the herb blends containing rosemary, thyme, and marjoram, peppercorns in all colors that smell so fresh and earthy, and the olive oils that have been freshly pressed with their rich flavors. What a way to experience a region through the senses.
The flower market in the South of France is an expression of the warm sunshine with blossom colors that are so deep and bright that they fill my heart with joy. The scents are captivating to the nose. As you stroll by stall after stall of mimosas, fuchsias, roses, and anemones in colorful bouquets, you can breathe in the fresh fragrance that says “the South of France”. Other stalls will be selling beautifully painted pottery or table linens designed and crafted by artisans in Provence, each with their own markings. One of my favorite stalls is always the fragrant lavender stands that sell things like sachets of lavender flowers, lavender honey, soaps and perfumes. The subtle deliciousness of lavender honey in a cup of tea is beautiful.
So I highly suggest that on your next trip in the US or abroad, you take a list of local farmers markets and take the time to visit and experience the flavor of the region. You will not be disappointed if you go with an open mind and inquisitive nature.
Here is a list of some links to get you started on your market journey: