Farmers markets open for the 2017 season

The tradition of farmers markets can be traced back to ancient times. We can find accounts of 5,000-year-old Egyptian marketplaces along the Nile, where farmers would barter their fresh produce. Perhaps this is one reason that Ancient Egyptian civilization was so successful.

For millennia, market places were the centers of villages and towns throughout the civilized world. Not only were they places where people gathered to buy and trade goods and services, they were places where people met to exchange news and share stories with one another as well.

Farmers markets have deep roots in our nation’s history, too. European settlers established the first farmers market in the “New World” in 1634, in Boston, Massachusetts. And, by many accounts, they have existed as a quintessential part of American society, business, and trade since the 1700s. In fact, throughout much of the 18th and 19th centuries, outdoor market places were the heart of our American cities and centers of commerce in our rural communities. The Central Market, in Lancaster Pennsylvania, has been held in the same location since the 1730s. George Washington wrote about sending his kitchen staff to shop at Philadelphia’s outdoor market during the 1790s, and Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1806 about buying beef, eggs and vegetables at an outdoor market in Georgetown.

During the 20th century, everything changed: more and better roads were built nationwide, and, as more modern methods of refrigeration were invented and applied, it became possible to transport produce from large commercial farms to centers hundreds, even thousands of miles away. Wholesalers took advantage of opportunities to place fruit and vegetables produced by large commercial and corporate growers into neighborhood supermarkets and chain and convenience stores –all owned by even larger corporations. The local market all but disappeared and the small farmer found himself less and less able to compete.

Farmers markets began making a comeback, however, in the 1960s and ’70s, probably due, at least in part, to the Back-to-the-Land Movement, a North American counter-cultural social phenomenon which gave preference to self-sufficiency and local food production. In recent years, as concerns about food safety and sustainable energy paths have increased, interest in locally-produced food has steadily continued to build, and farmers markets have enjoyed a rapid, ongoing upsurge in popularity.

That popularity continues to increase in all 50 states. According to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, as of August 2016, there were 8,669 farmers markets operating throughout the United States – a 2.3 percent increase from 2015 and an 18.5 percent increase since 2010. Americans now spend billions of dollars annually at farmers markets.

Local farmers markets are now open for the season all over the North Country. To the best of my knowledge, there are farmers markets located in Akwesasne, Ausable Valley, Canton, Chateaugay Lake, Elizabethtown, Keene, Keeseville, Long Lake, Lowville, Malone, Massena, Norwood, Plattsburgh (2 locations), Paul Smiths, Port Henry, Potsdam, Saranac Lake, Schroon Lake, Speculator, Ticonderoga, Tupper Lake, Wadhams and Wilmington. (Apologies to those I may have missed.)

All are open on different days and at different times. Online information about these and other markets can be found online at www.adirondackharvest.com/farmersmarkets.html or data.ny.gov/Economic-Development/Farmers-Markets-in-New-York-State/qq4h-8p86.

A comprehensive list of where to buy locally-grown and produced foods at the farm gate, is available from your county Cornell Cooperative Extension office.

When you shop at local Farmers’ Markets, you’re buying produce that’s being made available at the peak of freshness and nutrient content. Most vendors travel less than 20 miles to sell at our North Country markets. Almost all travel to markets no more than 50 miles from their farm. They sell produce picked fresh within the past 24 hours. You can rest assured that the tomato you buy today was selected because it’s perfectly ripe and ready to enjoy. What’s more, market growers often select plant varieties and animal breeds specifically for their superior flavor and quality.

Compare that to most grocery stores, supermarkets, or super centers, which commonly offer produce that’s picked long-before it ripens and shipped to retail stores hundreds or thousands of petroleum-fueled miles away. Shipping may actually be of greater concern to the producer than quality. ‘Commercial maturity’ is typically a hard, green, but mature stage, just before ripening has initiated. A week or two can elapse between the time a tomato is picked and the time it’s purchased by the consumer. And it may never properly ripen.Ethylene gas may be used commercially to ripen tomatoes and other fruits, postharvest.

You can also find food items at Farmers Markets that most grocery stores don’t stock, i.e. grass-fed and free-range meats, farm-fresh free-range eggs, and locally-sourced spices, condiments, honey, maple syrup, fresh-baked goods, and teas. You may find cut flowers and locally-made body care products, too.

Farmers markets play a valuable role in promoting healthy northern New York communities. While shoppers enjoy the freshness and taste of locally grown foods, and vendors capture more of the value of their products from direct sales to their customers, money is circulated through the local economy.

Support local growers. Support local economies. Buy local foods.

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