What's Your Favorite Farm Market?

That’s what the American Farmland Trust wants to know. Beginning June 1, members of the farm-marketing public are invited to cast their votes in the “America’s Favorite Farmers Markets” contest, a first for the organization.

KOD at Arlington Courthouse Market, Arlington, Va. (Forrest Pritchard)

The online ballot, available here, will be searchable by zip code, but will only include markets that officially register with AFT. Translation: If you want your local farm market on the ballot, you’ll need to bug the market manager to sign up.

And if all farm markets sign up, the ballot will be enormous. As of last year, there are 4,685 markets nationwide, according to the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), an increase of 6.8 percent since 2006. With so many markets to choose from, how can a farm market lover pick just one?

Huckleberries at Clark Fork River Market, Missoula, Mont. (Kim O'Donnel)

It’s because of Courthouse and Columbia Pike markets in Arlington that I developed a love for purple hull peas, okra, watermelon and sweet potatoes ( often, with their greens attached); shucks, at Columbia Pike market, I got schooled in apples working with a fruit grower.

As if there’s nothing else to do in New Orleans, the markets are chockfull of Gulf shrimp and gorgeous Creole tomatoes, and blueberries from across the Mississippi state line. And how can I forget the huckleberries of Montana or the smoked fish, cheese curds and gooseberries of Wisconsin. In southern California, this Yank never tires of the local almonds, walnuts and dried fruit, the endless varieties of oranges, and yes indeed, pomegranates.

Here in Washington state, where the growing season is long and varied, the bounty is rich, a long list of goodies that includes fiddlehead ferns, nettles, asparagus, unsurpassed berries, renowned peaches, dried beans, beets like you’ve never seen, apples of your eye, local cranberries -- and that doesn’t even include the fruits of the sea.

But a favorite? Impossible to choose. Can you?

Before you cast those ballots, I’d like to take your pulse: Which markets top your personal list -- and why? Are you a die-hard weekly shopper at the market down the road or is your favorite a long-distance boyfriend that you get to visit just a few times a year? What makes your faves so irresistible? Share with the class, please!

By Kim ODonnel |  May 21, 2009; 7:50 AM ET Farmers Markets
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I am a devoted attendee to farmers' markets. In San Luis Obispo, CA, we've got markets at least four days a week, most of them year round, all around the county. Choose a favorite? You might as well ask a mother to choose her favorite child. There is the market I go to most often (the local Saturday rather than local Thursday night), the market where I can get grass-fed beef, the fish market at the beach, and then there is the farther away market that I've never attended and imagine as sort of the Shangri-La of farmers' markets based on the raves from my North County friends. Each is unique, each has something of value, and each brings joy to my life. Hooray for the current celebration around the country for the local farmer and local food.

Posted by: esleigh | May 21, 2009 10:08 AM

Speaking as a HUGE farmer's market fan, I would like to encourage everyone out there to find the farmers versus the resellers. There has been an increase in the total number of farmer's markets nationwide, and to fuel those markets, there are folks who are now buying produce wholesale and selling it either in lieu of or as an adjunct to crops or products they produced themselves. We as consumers need to educate ourselves as to what is seasonal in our areas and focus on buying those products directly from the producers. I have heard stories from many, many farmers that can't price their products low enough to compete with the resellers. And resellers will be competing with local farms as long as we don't act to support the local farms instead of the resellers.
On a related note, I was just at a conference here in NC, where I live, where a chilling statistic was thrown out. Over the last 5 years, 600,000 acres of farmland in NC alone was lost. That's 600,000 acres that is now subdivisions, strip malls, big box stores and the like. This is land that will never be farmed again; or at least not in my childrens' childrens' childrens' lifetime. If we don't patronize our local farms; if we don't make it lucretive enough for farms to continue as farms instead of selling out to developers, this trend will continue. Please, find out who your local farms are, and support them. The family farm you save could belong to your great-grandparent's childhood neighbors.
On a happier note, if you're ever in the Triangle area of NC, you MUST hit the Durham Farmer's Market (or if in the mountains, Boone and Asheville both have GREAT markets!). Tons of organic, verification of local production to sell there. At Durham, stop at Harland's Creek and tell Judy the Farmer that OrganicGal says hi!

Posted by: OrganicGal1 | May 21, 2009 10:35 AM

I want to second OrganicGal1's concern about resellers. The most convenient farmers' market for me is Old Town Alexandria, but there are so many resellers, it's sometimes hard for me to determine who is selling their own local produce. Of course, sometimes it's easy -- I know no one grew bananas in Virginia! -- but it makes me sad that I come to the farmers' market looking to support farmers and local agriculture, and still end up having to quiz everyone about the origins of their wares.

Which is why, now, I go to Fairfax County farmers' markets, which have stricter regulations. Fall's Church is a favorite :)

Posted by: marcelle42 | May 21, 2009 10:39 AM

I am a big fan of the Fairfax Community Market on Saturdays. Its gotten a bit bigger every year, and its producers and crafts only. This time of year the pickings are a bit slim, mostly onions, asparagus and early strawberries, but there are a few more veggies every week, and once summer is truly here, I can always find something new to try.

Posted by: veginchantilly | May 21, 2009 11:04 AM

OrganicGal1, thank you for sharing the stats on lost farmland in NC. Very powerful.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 21, 2009 11:29 AM

My two favorite farmer's markets in NoVa are Falls Church and the Del Ray market in Alexandria. The Del Ray market is relatively small, but there are a few really good merchants and it's walking distance to Cheesetique (and now Meat on the Avenue). There's also a nice place for breakfast and a playground for kids at a nearby school. Similarly, Falls Church is located next to a nice park.

I'll also give a shout out to the markets that aren't on Saturday mornings. Hope to try the Columbia Pike market soon (only realized after hunting for it a couple of times that it's a Sunday market). I liked the new Cameron Station market that opened last year and hope it remains viable.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 21, 2009 12:36 PM

No such thing as a favorite in the Front Range. Too many to choose from. A plethora of such offerings. And they're spread out: Wednesday here, Thursday there, and everyone on Saturday and Sunday.

Posted by: 12thManTrainingTable | May 21, 2009 7:48 PM

I would have killed for a Thursday market today. Made a tri-color risotto for Mrs. Blade's birthday and wanted to make a strawberry risotto for the red portion of the flag. I went with a tomato paste flavored/colored risotto, but will have to wait for Saturday for fresh berries. [Supermarkets are full of berries, but all are shipped not quite ripe.]


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 21, 2009 11:46 PM

When I lived in the DC area, my favorite market was - and still would be - Falls Church. We actually chose to move to Falls Church partially for the Farmers' market. I live now way too far in the country to get to it. I just go directly to the farms (or my garden). But I do miss the diversity of the offering and the sense of community that a good farmers' market provides.


Posted by: rowandk | May 22, 2009 8:54 AM

I LOVE the Greenbelt market, held on Sundays, 10-2. Producer only, no resellers. This is it's second year, and there have been some other vendors added that sell goat cheese, goat milk, bison, in addition to the farms and orchard.

Posted by: JAC5 | May 22, 2009 12:05 PM

BB - Strawberry risotto sounds intriguing; would you supply more details? I've made beet risotto and it comes out a brilliant magenta if you're ever in this fix again.

Posted by: esleigh | May 22, 2009 12:16 PM

In Massachusetts the CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture") promotes "Be a Local Hero - buy locally grown". When I visit MA I see their "Be a Local Hero ..." bumper stickers everywhere. (info @ - http://www.buylocalfood.com/ )

Posted by: nc_coleman | May 23, 2009 8:02 PM

@esleigh - Thanks for the hint. I made beet risotto once and wouldn't you know had beets in the fridge! Ah well, the tomato paste risotto worked out well.

You get a savory dish from this recipe. The strawberries provide a lot of color and a moderate amount of flavor; not much sweetness. I garnished mine with some sliced strawberries. It's great with salmon! I must credit the source: Risotto by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman. It's one of my favorite cookbooks. I had another risotto cookbook at one point and kept coming back to this one.

Strawberry Risotto

Brodo - 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth

Soffrito -
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (or part veg oil)
1/3 cup finely minced onion
1/2 cup diced strawberries
1/4 cup of sweet wine

Riso - 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (I also think California short grain rice works very well in risotto).

Condimenti - 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese.

Method: Bring the broth to a simmer. Heat the butter in a heavy casserole (or dutch oven) over moderate heat. Add the onion and saute for 1 - 2 minutes until it softens. Add the strawberries and cook until they begin to release their juice. Add the wine and cook until syrupy (about 1 T of liquid)

Add rice to the soffrito and stir for about 1 minute, coating all the grains. Add the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, until nearly absorbed. Save a 1/4 cup to add at the end. The rice should be ready after about 20 minutes--tender and firm. Add the last 1/4 cup of broth and the condimenti (butter & Parm) and stir to combine.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 25, 2009 9:06 PM

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