The Best Farmers Markets in America

best farmers markets in america
American farmers markets have become stalwart stops on weekend errands lists, but as much as they’re synonymous with modern urban life, these markets are actually pillars of old-time America. The Lancaster Central Market in Lancaster, Penn. gets the award for oldest farmers market in America, having been continually operated since the 1730s.


Lancaster County, now a popular tourist destination with an active Amish community, built the market on a charter from King George II to supply regional produce and food to the settled municipality. The Easton Farmers’ Market in Easton, Penn., about two hours east of Lancaster, has operated since 1752.


According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), successful markets in towns like Lancaster and Easton set off a new trend. From roughly 1818 to the years after World War I, farmers and local merchants set up several “curb markets” to peddle their produce, meats and wares to townspeople.


american farmland on countryside


During the late 1800s, many of the iconic, now landmark farmers market buildings were erected to provide shelter to shoppers year-round. Lancaster Central Market, housed in a striking Romanesque Revival structure, sprung up in 1889, and Detroit’s first market house shed was built in 1840. Many of these striking market houses are still used and well-preserved today.


Rural Meets Urban: Farm Market Fodder


Today, we think of farm markets as convenient ways to get fresh, organic and locally made food, even if we live in highly populated, urban environments. At their core, farmers markets were always meant to serve that purpose.


During times when communities were limited to food grown or raised within a 100-mile radius or less, farmers markets ensured that the new country’s city-dwellers had access to dairy, fruits, vegetables and meats. The only difference between the farmers market of yesterday and the farmers market of today is their growing popularity — Americans now have their pick from over 8,000 markets listed in the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory.


The Definitive List: Top Farmers Markets in the U.S.


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Los Angeles’ Original Farmers Market Los Angeles may be an urban center, but farmers love it too. In the city of Los Angeles and the surrounding area, there are several dozen farmers markets, but only one is the first. The Original Farmers Market, located at the corner of Third Street and Fairfax Avenue, features more than 100 vendors, including farmers, restauranteurs, street food carts and more. Like many older markets, L.A.’s version is rife with historic significance. The landmark market, opened in July of 1934, is beloved by Angelenos and serves as a favorite destination for both local and visitors to the city.


los angeles original farmers market


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Detroit’s Eastern Market Despite the less temperate climate, Detroit has a historic year-round farmers market of its own. The Eastern Market boasts 43 acres of market space, making it the largest historic market district in the U.S. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, Eastern Market traces its roots all the way back to 1841, when it opened up primarily as a market supplying hay and wood to locals. In the 170-plus years Eastern Market has been around, it has operated continuously. Now, visitors can enjoy over 150 food vendors and hundreds of specialty businesses, including plenty of delicious Detroit food, as well as the country’s largest open-air flowerbed market.


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New York’s Union Square Greenmarket New Yorkers who stroll through Union Square on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays are likely to stumble upon the Union Square Greenmarket if they weren’t headed there already. The lively outdoor market supplies city-dwellers with farm-fresh food, bouquets of colorful flowers and other farm goods not usually sold in the Concrete Jungle. New York City started its Greenmarkets program in 1976 in order to provide regional farmers with the opportunity to sell their goods within the city. The original Greenmarket started with seven farmers who sold out by noon each week. Today, over 200 regional farmers participate and over 250,000 customers frequent the market in peak season.


farmers market organic fruit


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Lancaster’s Central Market  You simply cannot talk about significant farmers markets without mentioning Lancaster. As you already know, the Eastern Pennsylvania city is home to the country’s oldest continually operating farmers market — and still boasts some amazing vendors today. Farmers, crafters, butchers, bakers and dairy sellers peddle indoors and out, with some setting up shop within the 20,540-square-foot brick building, which was built in 1889. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and the exterior has been preserved so it looks nearly the same as it did over 100 years ago.


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Cleveland’s West Side Market Just west of downtown Cleveland, in a neighborhood known as Ohio City, stands another farmers market with an official spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Cleveland’s West Side Market began operations in 1840, making it the oldest operating market space in the city. The iconic building, which features a 137-foot-tall clocktower, was erected in 1912 and serves as a significant city landmark today. The year-round market welcomes hundreds of vendors annually, including local produce sellers, bakers, dairy farmers, butchers and purveyors of prepared food, spices, nuts and oils.


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seattles pike place market


Seattle’s Pike Place Market Made famous by “Sleepless in Seattle” and the Starbucks coffee chain, whose flagship store was inside the market, Pike Place Market is one of the most recognizable public markets in the United States. Its exterior, with the landmark Public Market Center sign, is the No.1 most-Instagrammed place in Seattle, and the market itself is the 33rd-most-visited tourist attraction in the world. The market, which draws nearly 10 million visitors per year, hosts about 240 mom-and-pop style businesses, including farmers, craftspeople, restaurants, antiques dealers, artists and sellers of prepared foods. This market also has historical significance. It opened in 1907 to replace The Lots, a three-block area where farmers sold their goods. The creation of the market was propelled by the city’s need to curb corruption at the previous market


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The Portland Farmers Market Started by three local activists in 1992, the Portland Farmers Market has grown from 13 vendors to over 200 vendors in its 26-year history. That original market took place at Albers Mill, but it eventually moved to Portland State University in 1998. Now, it comprises seven markets throughout the city, including Shemanski Park and Pioneer Courthouse, in addition to five neighborhood markets. The marketplaces welcome an assortment of vendors, including farms, nurseries, bakeries, meat and seafood sellers and specialty foods vendors.


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The Charleston Farmers Market  Located in Charleston’s historic Marion Square, the Charleston Farmers Market is a seasonal market held on Saturdays from April to October. Founded by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley in 1989 — who was the mayor of Charleston for over 40 years — the city’s market has a distinctly Lowcountry flair. Charlestonians have their pick from many local suppliers, including peddlers of produce, plants, flowers, crafts, meats and more.


charleston farmers market


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Chicago’s Green City Market  Chicago has its own collection of city-operated neighborhood markets, but the Green City Market is its only year-round, sustainable market. Run by a nonprofit organization, Green City Market was started in 1998 by author and chef Abby Mandel, who got the idea for the market after visiting Europe and seeing the many bustling marketplaces there. The organization operates one year-round winter market at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park, as well as three outdoor markets that run through the summer months.


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Washington, D.C.’s Eastern Market  If historic market houses are what you’re after, add Eastern Market to the list of must-visit farm markets. The crown jewel of the Capitol Hill fresh market is the Italianate structure. It was completed in 1873 and, despite a 2007 three-alarm fire, has been well-preserved. The history of the market actually extends beyond the original structure, as city planner Pierre L’Enfant included designated spaces for local public markets in his city plans. The structure was designed by architect Adolf Cluss, who also designed the landmark Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall. Aside from the two-year period of rebuilding after the fire, the market house has continuously served local vendors and shoppers since it opened in 1873.


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Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market  This famous indoor farmers market is one of the country’s largest and oldest, tracing its roots back to 1892. Like many of the other old and significant markets in the country, Reading Terminal has its own unique story to tell. The market was built in 1891 below the Reading Railroad’s headhouse terminal, which had a below-level, state-of-the-art refrigerated room for storing and selling cold goods. Upstairs, sawdust had to be spread on the floors to absorb condensation from the basement’s cold storage facility. By 1913, Reading Terminal Market was bonafide bustling, with around 350 merchants. Despite a steep decline after the Great Depression and Philadelphia’s suburbanization in the middle of the last century, Terminal Market had a rebirth in the 1980s, and it is now a popular tourist destination.


man bagging tomatoes farmers market


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Boston’s Copley Square Farmers Market  The Copley Square Market is Beantown’s largest and busiest farm market. Held in the heart of Back Bay, the market is run by Mass Farmers Markets, a non-profit founded in 1978 in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. Held seasonally on Tuesdays and Fridays, Copley Square’s open-air market is a great place to try local fare, including smoked fish, cheese, produce and artisan foods. Mass Farmers Market also hosts markets in Central Square and Davis Square.


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San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market  Officially called the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and Ferry Building Marketplace, this San Francisco mainstay is held within the iconic San Francisco Ferry Building, along the historic Embarcadero. Serving locals, tourists and workers from offices in nearby SoMa and the Financial District, the Ferry Plaza market ushers in as many as 25,000 faithful shoppers each weekend. The Ferry Building is one of the city’s most iconic, storied landmarks, with a history dating back to 1898. It was originally opened to welcome anyone who arrived in San Francisco by train, including the many Westward travelers seeking gold. The market itself dates back to the mid-1990s, but it earned a permanent home in the building in 2003 after a four-year restoration project.


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Madison, Wisc’s Dane County Farmers Market Branded as the country’s largest producers-only farmers market — meaning vendors cannot sell any products that are commercially made — Madison’s Dane County Farmers Market hosts over 275 merchants annually. The market was founded in 1972 by then-mayor Bill Dyke, who wanted a way to bring Madison’s rural bounty into the city. The Dane County Farmers Market is still going strong, welcoming food trucks, produce, dairy sellers — who are famous for their cheese curds — and many more producers.  


colorful organic vegetables farmers market


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Easton, Penn.’s Easton Farmers Market Like the Central Market in Lancaster, Easton is one of the commonwealth’s market mainstays. Founded in 1752, it’s the second-oldest continually running farmers market in America and the oldest continually operating open-air market in America. The market opened the same year of Easton’s founding and was chosen as a market town because of its equidistant proximity to Philadelphia and New York City. The market itself is located in the town’s Centre Square, which was one of only three public sites where the Declaration of Independence was read to the public in 1776. It operates year-round on Saturday mornings.


Seeking Out the Fresh, Organic, Local and Unique


While America has thousands of popular farm markets that promote their own unique flavors, foods and histories, they all have one thing in common. They show a commitment to creating a more localized and sustainable world where residents of decidedly non-agricultural cities can access the agricultural splendor grown in the greater region. Plus, marketgoers have the unique opportunity to discover small-batch, artisan and craft goods, and that’s a tradition worth preserving!