Great Grazing: Savoring Farmers Markets on the Road
Strolling through the bustling aisles, a bounty of fresh greens and brightly colored fruits beckoned me. But the fresh chevre really threw me for a geographical loop. As the author of three books about cheese, I know my fair share about the stinky stuff, and I particularly love goat cheeses in all of their chalky-white glory. But fresh chevre mixed with guava and pineapple was a new twist for me. I was suddenly reminded I wasn't in Wisconsin anymore -- but rather at the Wednesday farmers market in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii.
As a farmers market junkie, I regularly browse the produce bins at my local markets, of course, but the open-air bazaars are also one of my favorite go-to attractions whenever I travel. At the Hilo market, you'll find much more than just produce: I bought some Kona coffee that's grown just across the island and received a back adjustment from a holistic therapist while my husband, Kyle, fell in love with a vintage Hawaiian shirt.
Visiting farmers markets while traveling allows you to savor the area's seasonal bounty and also pick up gifts and one-of-a-kind souvenirs. They're also one of the best places to meet the local people and soak up the culture. Not only can you interact with the locals who sell and shop, but many markets also feature demonstrations by local chefs and performances by local bands.
Besides Hilo's great market, here's a roundup of some other fabulous farmers markets to visit while you're on vacation:
Dane County Farmers Market
Of the more than 6,000 farmers markets across the U.S., this is the biggest of them all. Taking over all of Capitol Square, the market is a moving, undulating wall of people during peak summer hours. The sellers are the actual farmers -- no reselling is allowed. You'll find the season's freshest produce along with grass-fed beef, hand-kneaded breads, fresh honey, maple syrup and artisan cheeses that you can't find anywhere else.
Highlight: Hook's 15-year-old cheddar cheese. It's the oldest aged cheese in the country, and at $50 a pound, the crumbles are worth licking off your fingers.
Union Square Greenmarket
New York City
Started in 1976 with just a handful of farmers, this granddaddy of farmers markets now boasts 130 vendors during peak season.
Highlight: I picked up some great cheese (big surprise), sampled some amazing scones and walked away with New York wine that I double-wrapped in my clothes to take home.
Old Town Farmers Market
Apparently, George Washington sent his vegetables to be sold at this market. While I didn't run into any presidential produce, I did encounter some amazing preserves and perhaps the best-tasting pickles ever. The vegetables and flowers also are standouts at this dog-friendly market.
Highlight: I bought as selection of jams and sweet, crispy pickles to bring home as gifts, but they were irresistable and I ended up munching the pickes right out of the jar.
Holland Farmers Market
In season, you can get tulips at this Western Michigan farmers market. But if you have kids, there's a weekly schedule of kid-friendly events and demonstrations, including everything from meeting amphibians to playing vegetable bingo.
Highlight: I picked up some great Michigan peaches here, and I took home some potted herbs.
West Palm Beach Green Market
Downtown West Palm Beach, on the Waterfront
West Palm Beach, Fla.
This farmers market runs from October to May, the height of South Florida's tourist season, with a break during the summer months. You'll find great greens, breakfast smoothies and homemade guacamole here.
Highlight: Siggi's Cheese Shop, run by retired German cheese monger Siegfried "Siggi" Mey, has one of the best selections of imported European cheeses I've ever seen.
Healdsburg Farmers Market
Sonoma County, Calif.
The breadth and depth of produce, dairy and meats available in Northern California can rarely be matched. After all, this is where the locavore movement was born. The Healdsburg market is ripe with the freshest produce, olive oil and delicate bloomy rinds of goat's milk cheese in this charming wine country town.
Highlight: the delicate, handcrafted chocolates and olive-fig spread
California brims with local bounty, so it's tough to pick just one farmers market to highlight. Some other notables include: the Downtown Santa Monica Farmers Market (a favorite among chefs); the Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers Market (one of the largest and oldest in the country); the San Francisco Farmers Market in Ferry Plaza (acclaimed for its fresh farm products and artisan foods along the waterfront); the Santa Barbara Farmer's Market (an impressive Cental Coast bounty downtown on Tuesdays and Saturdays) and the Los Angeles Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax (a historic tourist destination).
Of course, this is only a sampling of the great markets across the country. Dan Sutton, who runs The Locavore Network website, suggests this handy search tool to find growers near you. Also, this roundup of Must-Have Summer Apps includes a farmers market finder, too.
What are your favorite farmers markets? Tell us below.