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'Tis the Season for the Farmers Market

Check out 12 we scouted or find one close to you for local, organic food

woman at farmers' market with basket of peaches

Americans are turning to farmers markets for fresher, more nutritious foods. — Blend/Getty Images

NEW YORK

City of Rochester Public Market

How much do people in Rochester love their city market? Enough to vote it into the top spot in the 2010 America's Favorite Farmers Market contest, sponsored by the farm conservation group American Farmland Trust.

The city has run a market at the current site since 1905 (and for more than 75 years before that at other locations). Through the early 1950s, the market was the main distribution hub for area grocery stores, so today food wholesalers still are found amidst the farmers, says market director Jim Farr. But as the market grants new leases, "it's always western New York farmers first," he says, followed by other fresh food producers, then arts-and-crafts and general merchandise vendors and prepared-food concessions. The resulting scene, on the three days of the week that the farmers market is open: people of all ages and diverse racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds, shopping a huge range of merchandise. "At one point we identified 29 different languages being spoken here as native tongues on Saturday morning," Farr says.

Because the market's peak-season popularity can cause traffic snarls, the city operates a tram to nearby parking facilities, and a "veggie valet" where customers can leave purchases and drive through after shopping to pick them up. In the winter, Farr says, "it's kind of a tradition" for hardcore vendors and customers to keep coming, to outdoor stalls fitted with kerosene heaters and tents. The only time in the past 16 years that the Saturday market closed, he says, was once in 1999 when 43 inches of snow fell the night before. But when the wind chill hits minus 20 degrees, Farr says the market does take extra measures: It lets vendors sell for free.

www.cityofrochester.gov/publicmarket

585-428-6907

280 North Union Street, Rochester, NY 14609

Saturdays, 5 a.m.- 3 p.m. year-round; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 a.m.-1 p.m. year-round. For schedules of additional hours before and after holidays and for special events, see the market's online events listing. 

Union Square Greenmarket, New York

In 1976, a handful of farmers established a market in Union Square Park, so named because it sits at the union of major Manhattan thoroughfares. Today, the Union Square Greenmarket's location — over a subway station and banked by neighborhoods such as Chelsea and Greenwich Village — helps it draw as many as 60,000 shoppers on busy days.

In peak season, some 140 food producers are here selling their wares: fresh fruits and vegetables, heritage meats and farmstead cheeses, artisan breads, plants and cut flowers, wines, preserves and more. Regular market customers include a long list of New York chefs, culinary instructors and cookbook authors.

At Union Square, both vendors and shoppers come from so many different national and ethnic backgrounds that a favorite "hometown" ingredient for one grazer will be an exotic new taste treat for another. Veteran chef Richard Ruben, author of The Farmers Market Cookbook, likes to challenge shoppers: "If your family is from a certain culture, make sure you don't buy just from your own family pantry. So, if you're accustomed to buying spinach, instead maybe buy mustard greens, or bok choy from a Korean farmer."

Another Ruben favorite is Oak Grove Plantation, a New Jersey farm he says "probably has the best tomatoes and peppers in the market." According to Oak Grove's website, the farm grows 69 kinds of heirloom tomatoes and 334 kinds of hot and sweet peppers — enough variety to amaze even jaded shoppers. "That's the pleasure of the market," Ruben says: "Finding something new."

www.grownyc.org

 212-788-7476

Union Square West and 17th Street, New York, N.Y.

Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays year-round: 8 a.m.–6 p.m.

Next: Oregon farmers market. >>

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