Exploring a town’s farmers’ market not only feeds your stomach, but also provides opportunities to dive into the community you are visiting. “They serve as a hub for getting out and enjoying and engaging in your community,” says Kerry Glendening, the community coordinator for LocalHarvest, a nationwide organization that provides tools to help small farmers thrive by connecting communities with their local growers. “You can accomplish food shopping and socializing in one visit.”
Almost every major city — and plenty of smaller towns — hold farmers’ markets throughout warmer weather months. Most run from April to October, but you can find some year-round operations, including in New York City and two in Brooklyn: Brooklyn Borough Hall and Fort Greene Park.
Here are tips from Glendening on how to best navigate a market and what you can find beyond good eats. Don’t forget to bring reusable bag or backpack to load up on produce, quick snacks and gifts to take home:
Meet Your Local Farmer
One of the best ways to engage at the farmers’ market is to talk to the vendors. Ask them what they think is best that week, and if there’s a dish they love to prepare with a particular item. If you’re packing a picnic lunch, look for fresh fruits and veggies that store well for a few hours, like carrots and radishes, or apples, peaches or strawberries.
Stop for Lunch
If you are traveling with a large group, head to a market so that everyone can make their own food choices and can try a variety of local flavors. Often, you’ll find fresh bread, cheese and charcuterie to make a full meal. “Many farmers’ markets include prepared food vendors and seating areas,” Glendening says. “Walk around, check everything out, decide what you like best and settle in.”
Buy a Local Souvenir
Farmers’ markets typically don’t just sell food. You’ll find jewelry, art, handmade soaps and other beauty products, along with jars of salsa, jam and other tasty snacks that are easy to pack (think homemade quinoa crackers or fresh roasted coffee). Plus, many of the specialty foods you’ll find at a market are unique to the local growing region, which makes them ideal gifts for friends and family back home.
Learn About the Community
A farmers’ market offers another way to get to know a community and its residents. “Markets are often located in areas are good for window-shopping and browsing, or if the market is off the beaten path, you might see a part of town you never would have found otherwise,” Glendening says.
Connect with New People
If you are visiting a new town alone — or perhaps need a break from a conference or meetings — browsing around a farmers’ market is an ideal solo activity, because you can peruse at your own pace and grab a quick bite to eat while enjoying fresh air. Markets are easy places to chat with people and a great way to figure out what is happening around town later that night. “Often farmers’ markets feature music, which offers an opportunity to hang out and potentially meet the locals,” Glendening says.
Shop Local and Fresh
Supporting local companies whenever you have that option is ideal for the community’s economy and when it comes to food, it’s a win-win for both parties. “By eating locally grown food, you’re getting the freshest, most seasonal produce out there,” Glendening says. For you, that means knowing exactly where that squash or fair-trade coffee originated.
You’ll often find vendors that represent local restaurants or brick-and-mortar businesses. See what spread is available for lunch as a precursor to dinner. Alternatively, ask the vendors to recommend their favorite foodie spots in town. If you are unable to make it to a market, but still are craving fresh, healthy food, stop by the Cork & Kale Market and Bar at EVEN Hotels for healthy meals and grab ‘n’ go snacks.