It’s Winter. Let’s Go to the Farmers’ Market!
On a recent Saturday morning at Eastern Market in Detroit, busking musicians filled the air with jazz as vendors finished setting up for the day’s traffic. Shoppers streamed in, sizing up winter produce, relishes and chutneys, fresh cuts of beef and more.
Though farmers’ markets are usually associated with warm months and lush fruits and vegetables, Eastern Market and others like it across the country are becoming cold-weather travel destinations as they add artisanal goods, entertainment and indoor experiences like the cooking classes the Detroit market has sometimes offered during the cold months.
Some, like the Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles, the Detroit market and the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, have been in business for so long that shopping, restaurant and entertainment neighborhoods have cropped up around them, creating urban ecosystems worthy of winter weekend getaways.
“There is now a whole destination associated with the markets themselves, and often their events are unique to the communities they serve,” said Ben Feldman, the executive director of the Farmers Market Coalition, a nonprofit organization for markets across the United States. Take, for example, the Commissioner’s Cup BBQ Cook-Off and Festival at the South Carolina State Farmers Market, which happens each March in Columbia or Milwaukee Public Market’s chili-and-beer-tasting event that kicks off annually in February.
Mr. Feldman added that while the focus of farmers’ markets is on what’s in season, purveyors are extending the peak of the season by creating baked goods, jams and other products from crops they’ve grown, while others are relying on greenhouses or semicircular “hoop” houses to bring more produce to market in winter. The revenue, Mr. Feldman said, is beneficial to the immediate community.
For cities in warmer climates, staying open in the winter is easy. California, for instance, has scores of year-round markets. Those in colder cities often have pavilions to buffer against the cold. The Nashville market, for example, has a Market House, where shoppers will find prepped-food options and cafes, including a wine-tasting room.
Here are five markets that are worth a day or two of exploring — even in chilly weather.
Santa Fe Farmers’ Market
There are always reasons to go to Santa Fe, N.M.: The city’s sublime views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and its roughly 325 days of sunshine a year make it almost a lock for good weather. So the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market operates throughout the winter on Saturdays at the reimagined, city-owned Santa Fe Railyard, where tourists and new Santa Fe residents once rolled in on sleeping and dining cars when the city was young.
In the winter months, said Debbie Burns, chief executive of the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, shoppers can find fresh-picked arugula, bok choy, cabbage, potatoes, sprouts, microgreens, carrots, kale, mushrooms, winter squash, spinach, greenhouse tomatoes and other produce.
“It used to be that hardly any vendors produced in the winter, but now so many people have greenhouses that we have over 40 vendors,” Ms. Burns said.
The market caps all products that aren’t produce and meat (as in baked goods or crafts) at no more than 20 percent to keep space for what the market is meant for: fresh food.
“We are considered one of the best in the nation because we’re a true farmers’ market,” she said. “If people could taste the difference between the vegetables here and what they get at grocery stores or even at health food stores, they would understand, because all of that has to go through a distribution center.”
The weekend market is split between growers and artists. Saturday brings in produce and meat from regional farm and ranch vendors, and on Sundays, the Railyard Artisan Market attracts regional artists, jewelry makers and other craftspeople, and producers of health and beauty products. It’s not unusual to find hand-thrown pottery, woven scarves and hats, and silver and turquoise jewelry.
Keeping funds within the community makes the market sustainable, Ms. Burns said. “We have no shareholders. All of the money we make goes back into the market.”
The Original Farmers Market, Los Angeles
With its proximity to the San Joaquin Valley in central California — one of the most productive agricultural regions in the United States — Los Angeles has dozens of farmers’ markets, but the Original Farmers Market in the Fairfax District is an institution.
There is, of course, a wider variety of fruits and vegetables here than at markets in less accommodating climes, but beyond its winter produce, which includes avocados, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, kumquats, clementines and persimmons, this market is also a maze of global (Brazilian, Cajun, Chinese, French, Italian, Middle Eastern and more) street-food vendors, restaurants, seafood and meat dealers, and specialty and curio shops.
Winter also brings the market’s annual celebration of the Lunar New Year with live performances and activities for kids. Another annual event is the market’s own Mardi Gras celebration in mid-February, with live blues and zydeco as well as Louisiana-style food.
On weekdays, crew and talent from the nearby studio complex Television City are often seen eating lunch at the cream-and-hunter-green stalls that make up this winding market, which has had celebrity fans over the years, including the Beatles. Some locals shop at the Fairfax market for certain items and then head to the nearby Hollywood Farmers’ Market for its wide selection of fresh fruit and vegetables.
“My office was near the Fairfax market for years,” said Julia St. Pierre, a Santa Monica resident. “I’d pick up fixings for dinner from their huge meat market or their fish place and then grab that birthday gift I needed from one of the little shops,” she said, adding, “It’s also a great place to hang out.”
Nashville Farmers’ Market
One of the oldest Tennessee markets, the Nashville Farmers’ Market, is just a mile away from the honky-tonks on Broadway. The market’s current version, a long way from the 40-foot-long “city market” in 1802, is a 16-acre grid of stalls and one pavilion just north of the Capitol in the city’s urban core.
While most of the farmers at the Nashville Farmers’ Market use traditional farming techniques, some vendors, such as Josiah and Eunae Mulvihill of Morning Star Farm (soon to be Mulvabbueh Farms), just outside Clarksville, Tenn., use “high tunnels” (greenhouses, but larger) as their main growing method, which means leafy greens like chard, spinach, kale, kohlrabi and parsley, as well as root vegetables, can be found at the Mulvihills’ stall, even in the winter.
“Our process allows for us to have fresh vegetables year-round,” Mr. Mulvihill said. His farm, he said, is committed to a sustainable “best practices” approach, which means, among other things, organic farming.
The open-air stalls operate throughout the year inside two large covered sheds that serve 150 vendors, including ranchers, artisans, dairy farmers and cheese makers as well as dealers of farm-direct products like honey, jams, jellies and chutneys. The market also lists 12 meat and seafood vendors.
Also open year-round is the Nashville market’s expansive, slightly raucous food hall, which offers several international restaurants, including Greek, Jamaican and Korean fare; cafes; a craft beer pub; and several specialty stores, including a comprehensive international market. If you have room in the car or truck, swing by the market’s popular Gardens of Babylon, a nursery with a focus on ecologically sensitive gardening practices.
Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia
The big blue sign with red neon letters at 12th and Arch Streets is a familiar sight to Philly natives, many of whom grew up going to the busy Reading Terminal Market, a 78,000-square-foot enclosed market that hosts nearly 80 independent vendors in the former Reading Terminal train shed in the heart of Center City. It is one of the oldest markets in the country, and it’s the most visited Philadelphia tourist destination after the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, according to the market.
Pennsylvania is known for its produce in spring, fall and summer, and for its dairy and meat products throughout the year; the number of dairy farms in Pennsylvania is second only to Wisconsin, according to the Center for Dairy Excellence, a nonprofit organization. Vendors buy from nearby Lancaster County farms, so the fresh milk, butter and cream offered at Lancaster County Dairy had to make only a short hop from farm to display case.
The Philly market has a number of old-school butchers, and 12 Pennsylvania Dutch vendors who specialize in Pennsylvania Dutch specialties such as baked goods, cheeses, chicken potpies and confections. The seating area in the market’s center is where guests can sample shoofly pie and scrapple, along with old-school favorites like Philly cheese steaks and hoagies. The prepared food is considered so good at the Reading Terminal Market that almost all Philadelphia food tours include a swing through it.
The market officially started doing business in 1893 at the current site, now a National Historic Landmark. The street-level market opened when the rumbling from trains then operating overhead could be felt. The Philadelphia farmers’ market is one of the oldest in the country, but not the oldest. That market is 80 miles west in Lancaster. The Lancaster Central Market dates to 1730.
Eastern Market, Detroit
One of the oldest and largest public markets in the United States, the sprawling Eastern Market is a central shopping hub for the city’s restaurateurs, and the site of the largest potted flower market in the United States.
This mammoth market district, just north of the city’s downtown, has 43 acres of restaurants, art galleries, entertainment, specialty shops and cafes. The market dates to 1841, when early Michiganders purchased hay and wood at the site. It even has its own welcome center. There are 225 vendors at the Saturday year-round market, and the Gratiot Central Meat Market, a meat-and-seafood store on Gratiot Avenue, has 12 vendors who operate throughout the year, from Monday through Saturday.
Thomas Bedway, whose family has been a presence at the Gratiot market since the 1960s, said that by using local butchers, consumers have a better understanding of what they are getting, when the meat was cut and how to prepare it.
“We do have a large selection of fresh cut meat throughout the year, and we know where it comes from,” Mr. Bedway said. “You can come in here and give me your budget and what you want, and we can cut to order. We can also custom blend.”
The market’s churchlike, arched brick entrance, through which an estimated 45,000 visitors flow each Saturday to find produce, meat, baked goods, jams, honey, cheeses, spices, plants and flowers, is unmissable.
The Rev. Garrett Mostowski, who, along with his wife, the Rev. Sarah Logemann, leads the congregation at the Fort Street Presbyterian Church in Detroit, said even in early December, the last time he was there, the market was an immersive Detroit experience.
“One of the guys at the market was selling hot sauces and marinades, and he was pulling kids to the side and doing tastings with them,” Reverend Mostowski said. “I feel like that’s a really cool interaction.”
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