We began distancing ourselves from the origins of our food during the Industrial Age, starting in the late eighteenth century, when trading posts began turning into general stores, which in turn evolved into grocery stores and finally to the behemoth chain warehouse stores we know now. Our food system today would be unrecognizable to our ancestors, and the original farmer who planted the seeds and tended the chicken coop has disappeared completely from most of our lives. In an age when convenience is valued over sustainability and community, we tend to forget what food really is — something that was alive and had to grow — and what it means to the places that produce it.
But we're starting to change and to ask where the things we eat actually come from and how they are produced. Food companies are picking up on our desire to know our food better. Buzzwords like “sustainable,” “grass-fed,” and “natural” are suddenly popping up gratuitously on meats and produce and packaged goods in our supermarkets. But more regulation on food advertising, these words won't necessarily actually mean anything.
Anyway, what better way to know the origins of your food, how it was produced, and who produced it than by asking the men and women who actually grow or make it? That's where farmers markets come in. According to the USDA, the number of farmers markets in America has increased by 68 percent over the last 15 years, from 5,000 markets in 2008 to 8,411 in 2015. Clearly they are serving a need.
For the past two years, The Daily Meal recognized the nation’s very best farmers markets in its list of the 101 Best Farmers Markets in America. There are plenty of qualities that we value in a good farmers market. Some important ones to consider are the quality and variety of products sold, how affordable products are, and what kind of public endorsement and recognition each particular farmers market receives. We also value the atmosphere we experience at the market, how friendly and helpful the vendors are, and what kind of information is made available to us about the market and its vendors.
This year, we tweaked the criteria for the ranking a bit, taking into account the markets’ own standards for vendors. We think it is important that farmers markets make the most of what their region has to offer and support local farmers instead of shipping in items from larger producers. Some markets even require vendors selling prepared food to only use ingredients they grew themselves, and their devotion to sustainability was taken into account when we made this list. We think it is important that farmers markets make the most of what their region has to offer and support local farmers instead of shipping in items from larger producers.
We further narrowed down this list by looking the number of vendors at each market, the market’s “street cred” — taking into account the number of Yelp reviews, the reviews themselves, and any accolades the market has won — the market’s devotion to all local produce and goods, and, finally, the market’s Twitter following.
This year, all of our top four markets are brand new to the list, and two are from the great state of California. Speaking of California, it continues to be the state with the most representation on our list, with nine markets overall — perhaps understandable when you consider that it is also, by far, our largest agricultural state. Pike Place Market in Seattle was our No. 1 market last year, but it's absent entirely this year. Although it is a wonderful market, only a small portion of it can really qualify as a farmers market, so we took it out of the running. We added some wonderful smaller markets that might not have been considered previously, like the Morgantown Farmers Market in Morgantown, West Virginia, and the Woodmont Farmers Market in Milford, Connecticut.
While there were almost no Southern markets on our previous lists — only Georgia and Tennessee, and Florida, if you’re under the impression that Florida is in the South — this year, we have added markets from Alabama, North and South Carolina, Mississippi, and Kentucky. Washington, D.C., also failed to appear on last year’s list. This year, however, it has two markets in the top 25. Minnesota and New York had the most markets on our list last year, and each of them gained one more in 2015.
Take a look at the rankings to see how your preferred farmers market fared, and let us know if we missed any of your favorites.
If you’d like to have a say in future rankings, try out our farmers market widget. Thanks to Fresh Nation, a company dedicated to delivering locally grown produce from farmers markets in your area to your doorstep, you can give your beloved farmers market the attention it deserves. The Fresh Nation Farmers Market widget allows you to vote for your local market by searching your ZIPcode and clicking the heart next to the market. So give your local market a shout out and help us find the hidden gems in your area. We will close voting July 22 and report back on your favorites.
#101 Cheverly Community Market, Cheverly, Md.
At the Cheverly Community Market you’ll find some of the best local vegetables and fruits, meats, fish, bread, wine, and one-of-a-kind crafts, such as beaded jewelry and knitted clothing. A lineup of musicians plays at the market each week, so you’ll be entertained as you shop. The market is open select Saturdays from May to December.
#100 South Bend Farmer’s Market, South Bend, Ind.
The South Bend Farmer’s Market has been serving its community every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday since 1911. The market continues to offer the same locally grown produce and homemade goods as it did more than 100 years ago, but today it has a permanent building, complete with a restaurant at the center.