Farmers Markets: A Renaissance

Who doesn’t love a farmers market? The revival of an ancient tradition has taken root everywhere! Small farmers marketing their produce directly to the consumer evokes thoughts of the agoras of the ancient Greek. Today this tradition has been fueled by the trend for the freshest foods as well as the locavore fever. Farmers markets speak of shared values and quality food. In addition to selling food, many of these markets sponsor food education programs. Neighbors helping neighbors.

When I lived in the Seattle area in the late 60s, I remember signing a petition to save the Pike Street Market. Today this market is thriving and a must-see when you’re in the area. With the proliferation of supermarkets in the 50s, the markets were dying out. According to the National Museum of American History, the 100 farmers markets in 1960 grew to more than 3,000 in 2000. And today there are more than 8,000 in the U.S.!

Why do we love them? With people moving around and often, the markets connect people, creating strong community ties. And each market is reflects its extended neighborhood, selling each area’s specialties. If you visit farmers markets in Wisconsin, you will definitely see a lot of cheese. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the markets abound in what we in the Mid-Atlantic states like to think of as the world’s greatest tomatoes and corn. The markets reflect the local flavor.

I am lucky to live less than a block from one of the oldest farmers markets in the U.S, the historic New Market, known today as the Headhouse Market, a historic national landmark in Philadelphia. What makes this market so interesting is that it is housed in the Headhouse Shambles, the oldest surviving colonial marketplace in the U.S. Built prior to 1745, it was designed after the rural markets in England, with two parallel rows of brick pillars supporting a gabled roof. Just as farmers and traders backed up wagons to the arches, today, farmers from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware back up their trucks to the arches.

Philadelphia also is the home of the Reading Terminal, which dates from 1892, selling local treasures and the exotic, from table food to table linens. It’s huge and a foodie favorite. Dating from 1730, Lancaster Pennsylvania’s Central Market boasts the oldest continuous farmers market.

Everyone has their favorite farmers market, from the Capitol Market in Charleston to the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market in San Francisco. My personal favorites include, in addition to my local Philly markets, Kensington and St. Lawrence Markets in Toronto as well as each and every farmers market in Switzerland and France! A movable feast!

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