Whether shopping for meats and dairy at a local grocery store or buying produce at a street vendor, we don’t always know how fresh the food we’re buying really is, if it’s been sprayed with pesticides, or if it contains genetically modified ingredients. Unless a food is labeled, it’s nearly impossible to tell. And even then, labels can be misleading.
As consumers who value health and the freshest ingredients, we want to be able to trust our suppliers in providing us with food that is healthy and also sustainable. We don’t want to worry about tainting ourselves and our families with poor-quality foods that could harm us in the long term.
That’s why we love our farmers markets. We rely on farmers and producers for fresh, locally grown and locally produced food that we buy at our community farmers markets. They provide us the best of the best-quality foods that are free of pesticides and genetically modified ingredients. And the best part is the food sold there is made by farmers and producers who love what they do and do it with a smile.
As more farmland is bulldozed and lost to urbanization, though, farmers markets are threatened, and we are at risk of losing our fresh, locally sourced food if local farmers can’t financially support their farms. To raise awareness of the loss of farmland and the threat it presents, the American Farmland Trust started the initiative I Love My Farmers Market Celebration to highlight the role that farmers play in our food system. Through the initiative, consumers can support their local farmers market by pledging to spend $10 at the next market, and the farmers markets with the most pledges are nationally recognized.
Farmers markets are a place where the community comes together to support each other and the sustainable practices farmers use to produce. Farmers are the backbones of our food supply, and we love meeting and getting to know the people who grow what we eat at our local farmers market.
Last year, The Daily Meal recognized the nation’s very best farmers markets in its list of the 101 Best Farmers Markets in America based on several criteria. 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, what kind of public endorsement and recognition the farmers market receives, where it’s located, and how often it’s open. 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.
Since we love farmers markets so much, we wanted to know which were the best in the country. This year, we re-evaluated the list, adding a few new ones — including Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wis. and Alemany Farmers Market in San Francisco — that we may have overlooked and knocking off a few at the bottom of last year’s list (these include the Old Cheney Road Farmers Market in Lincoln, Neb., the Waverly Farmers Market in Waverly, N.C., the Greenfield Farmers Market in Greenfield, Mass., the Downtown Bradenton Farmers Market in Bradenton, Flo. and the Tuesday Farmers Market in Cheyenne, Wyoming). It was a close call, but we ranked the best farmers markets in each state based on three main criteria that we think are the most important qualities a farmers market should have: "What’s at the Market," "Street Credibility," and "When It’s Open."
"What’s at the Market" considers the quality, number, and variety of products sold at the market, and the availability of each vendor’s background information. Because our peers’ opinions are always important, "Street Credibility" looks at what people are saying about the market, what kind of fan base it has on Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp, and any awards or recognition it’s been given. And finally, "When It’s Open," takes into account how often the market is open weekly and year-round.[slideshow:
While ranking, we found out some very interesting facts about farmers markets around the country. For example, not only do many farmers markets on our list stay open all year long, but some, like Seattle’s Pike Place Farmers Market and Hawaii’s Hilo Farmers Market, are open 365 days a year. And did you know some of the best farmers markets are those that have been around for more than 100 years, including Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Central Market — which claims to be the county’s oldest continuously operating farmers market for more than 275 years. Another finding was that some states like Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming have a very small number of farmers markets. And other states, like New Jersey and Kentucky have plenty of farmers markets, but those markets didn’t come close to qualifying as the best of the best.
Take a look at the rankings to see how your favorite farmers market fared, and let us know if we missed any of your favorites.
#101 Saturday Farmers Market (Newport, Ore.)
From colorful fresh fruit like blueberries, cherries, and raspberries to made-to-order grilled cheese sandwiches, carved walking sticks, and jewelry made from beach glass and stones, the Saturday Farmers Market is the place you want to be on a Saturday in Newport.
#100 City of Loveland Farmers Market (Loveland, Colo.)
With fresh produce, specialty meats and cheeses, freshly baked items, ready-to-eat food and drink, one-of-a-kind crafts, and weekly entertainment, there’s little that the City of Loveland Farmers Market doesn’t have. And every week to help those in need, the fresh produce that is not bought at the market is distributed to local food shelters and nonprofits.
Haley Willard is The Daily Meal's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter @haleywillrd.
This story was originally published Aug. 5, 2014.