As the weather warms up, farmers markets start popping up with a bevy of seasonal fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese and herbs. All across America, these markets showcase some of the freshest ingredients around. We’ve rounded up 10 markets worth checking out; here’s what to do and scoop up when you get there:
Santa Monica Farmers Market, Calif.
At the year-round downtown market, farmers sell you their produce directly. Visit on Wednesdays and Saturdays to pick up honey from Bill’s Bees, fruit from Avila and Sons Farm, mushrooms from Clearwater Farms and bison from Lindner Bison. If you aren’t much of a cook, opt for ready-made fare from local eateries, like sushi spot Sugarfish and bistro-style Fig Restaurant.
What to do: In May and June, the markets offer cooking classes, green-living workshops and gardening seminars for adults and kids alike.
Green City Market, Chicago
Head to Lincoln Park for Chicago’s major market, which began its outdoor season May 5. Open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the market focuses on local and sustainable food, with 55 diverse stalls filled with more than 20 varietals of plums, elk and tamales. Well-known local chefs — Dale Levitski from Sprout and Rick Bayless from Topolobampo — will perform cooking demonstrations throughout the summer, so mark your calendars.
What to do: Don’t miss the popular Green City Market BBQ Benefit on July 12, where you can sample barbecue from top restaurants and locally made beer.
Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University, Ore.
Portland boasts seven big markets, but the standout is on Portland State University’s campus. Running from March to December, the Saturday market features more than 160 vendors hawking local, in-season items like kale, radishes, carrots and scallions. Keep your eyes peeled for new stalls — Temptress Truffles will sell locally harvested mushrooms and huckleberries along with truffle butter, oil and salt.
What to do: Chef demonstrations draw crowds beginning at 10 a.m. Kids can get hands-on instruction at the cooking classes taught by students of The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Portland.
Nashville Farmers’ Market, Tenn.
Tracing its roots back to 1800s, the year-round Nashville market consists of three separate areas — the Farm Side with most of the food vendors, the Market House with restaurants and a café, and then the Flea Market that sells crafts like pottery and jewelry. Make a beeline for the food stalls to purchase tubs of chèvre from Noble Springs Dairy and spicy kettle corn by Moose Head Kettle Corn. Check out the market’s seasonality calendar to see what’s available before you go.
What to do: Experience Night Market on June 15, when the market stays open after hours starting at 6:30 p.m. Restaurants will provide special menus, and Market House merchants who normally show on Saturdays will open up.
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, San Francisco
Situated outside the historical Ferry Building overlooking the bay, the San Francisco market has been operating since 1933. It’s open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday year round, but its biggest day is Saturday. Stroll around for guavas from Brokaw Nursery, squash blossoms from Chue’s Farm and bok choy from Heirloom Organic Gardens. After the market, duck inside the Ferry Building to do more shopping among the artisan food stalls.
What to do: Watch raw chef Ani Phyo whip up a seasonal dish in the classroom under the white tents on May 26.
Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, N.M.
Debuting in the 1960s, the daily Santa Fe market claims to be the biggest in New Mexico with more than 150 vendors showing up to the Railyard grounds. The food sold is distinctly Southwestern — think peppers and heirloom tomatoes. Grab breakfast at the market’s café before hitting the stalls. If it’s Sunday, head to the Railyard Artisans Market, where you can find sculptures, hand-blown glass, gourds and jewelry.
What to do: The market holds a Cook with the Chef series on Thursday evenings, where local chefs dish out tasty food, discuss recipes and conduct Q&A sessions.
SFC Farmers’ Market at Sunset Valley, Texas
Just outside Austin, this market welcomes kids with a new playground that’s designed with loose sections so children can craft their own play area. But of course, the emphasis is really on local, sustainable food. To taste the best, try Bee Creek Farm’s juicy peaches, Dos Lunas’ raw cow’s milk cheese and McCall Creek Farms’ okra and bell peppers.
What to do: Go next door to the Sunset Valley Artisan Market for custom-made cedar swings, essential oils, pottery, metal wall art and jewelry.
Dane County Farmers’ Market, Madison, Wis.
Head to the Saturday market near Capitol Square to view the bounty from nearly 200 local produce vendors. Dating back to 1972, the large market sells morel mushrooms, maple syrup, rhubarb, cheese, squash, eggplant and currants. During the summer, the April-to-November market adds a Wednesday slot.
What to do: Come out for the annual Cows on the Concourse in Capitol Square on June 2 to support Wisconsin’s dairy industry. At the family-friendly event, pet the cows and enjoy live music.
University District Farmers Market, Seattle
More than 50 farmers from all over Washington journey to the Seattle market every Saturday. Shop for wild Alaskan spot prawns from Fishing Vessel Hat Trick, Washington estate wines from Klickitat Canyon Winery, ginger beer from Rachel’s Ginger Beer and vegetables from Youa Her’s Garden. Hungry? Stop at Market Bites, which cooks up empanadas, wood-fired pizzas, Indian street food and crêpes using ingredients from the local farmers.
What to do: The annual Ready, Set, Go…Cook! contest will take place Aug. 11. Seattle chefs go head-to-head to create a dish only made of produce and meat at the market.
Union Square Greenmarket, New York City
One of New York City‘s most-recognized farmers markets occurs every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in Union Square Park. During the market’s peak season, expect to find 140 vendors from around the region selling everything from dried lavender sachets to emu and ostrich eggs. Cooking demos take place weekly, and on Mondays, kids can stop by the Greenmarket Youth Education Station for a market tour and to meet local farmers.
What to do: Fishmonger Stephanie Villani and chef Robin Puskas will teach you how clean, fillet and cook sea trout on May 30.
Photo courtesy of Kate Gross