10 of the South's Best Farmers Markets
With the weather finally showing signs of spring, that can mean only one thing: it’s farmers market season.
The farmers market has been boosting local economies and providing consumers with the freshest local produce since the Great Depression, when roadside stands began popping up all over the country. The South boasts some of the best farmers markets in the country, and most are set up in both major cities and small communities by May. Next time you’re wondering what to cook for dinner, stop by one of these great Southern markets and pick out something that was most likely picked just hours before. (Scroll down for produce in season, shopping tips and more markets recommended by readers.)
Crescent City Farmers Market
New Orleans, Louisiana
With an emphasis on accessibility, this network of markets in New Orleans’ three key neighborhoods — downtown, mid-town and uptown — is available three days a week. Baked goods, cheeses, meats, prepared foods and flowers are available year-round, with berries, herbs, greens, tomatoes and seafood making an appearance for spring. Shoppers can purchase the market’s wooden tokens, the preferred form of currency dubbed “The Crescent,” upon arrival and are also invited to check out the uptown Tuesday market’s Green Plate Special, offering affordable plate lunches from a local chef (Domenica is on the menu for April). See the website for market hours and exact locations.
Charleston Farmers Market
Charleston, South Carolina
Ranked as the “Best Outdoor Event” by City Paper‘s reader’s poll from 2009-2012, the Charleston Farmers Market is a crowd pleaser for locals and tourists alike. The market is located in the beautiful Marion Square between King and Calhoun streets in the heart of downtown. You’ll find fresh produce, plants and herbs from all over the lowcountry, along with fresh cut flowers, arts and crafts from local artisans, live entertaiment and more as you enjoy lunch or breakfast from one of the many vendors. The market is open Saturdays from 8 a.m.–2 p.m. starting April 12 and running through November. (Market hours are extended to Sundays from 9 a.m.–4 p.m. during the Spoleto Festival on May 25, June 1 and June 8.)
Dekalb Farmers Market
Labeled as “a world market” in Decatur, just outside Atlanta, Dekalb is a mecca for farmers’ market lovers. Coming in at 140,000 square feet and serving 100,000 people a week, this indoor market has everything from produce to seafood, meat, cheese, flowers, coffee and a bakery. There’s also beer and wine, a deli, international foods and a market restaurant, so plan to spend most of the day here. The market is open daily from 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Downtown Tupelo Farmers’ Market
A Mississippi Certified Certified Farmers’ Market, this one in the home of Elvis Presley offers locally grown fruits and vegetables, fresh flowers, plants, herbs, dairy products, breads, pies, cakes, pastries, pickles, jams, jellies, preserves and smoked meats. Located on South Spring Street by the railroad tracks, Tupelo’s market opens May 17 and continues through October 25. (A fundraiser dinner for the market, Feast for the Farmer, is scheduled for May 16.)
Eureka Springs Farmers Market
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
For a truly “green” farmers market experience, head to Eureka Springs. Besides having an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies (like the radishes pictured above), this market is the first solar-powered market in Arkansas. The market also hosts special events, such as cooking demos, a night market in May and salsa and chili contests. Some of its more unique finds include organic duck and goose, organically log-grown shitake mushrooms and gluten-free and vegan baked goods. The market is open Tuesdays and Thursdays starting April 24 and running through December 5.
Greenville Saturday Market
Greenville, South Carolina
If you’re planning a weekend trip to Greenville, be sure to schedule some time at the Saturday farmers market on Main Street. Originally named for Joel Poinsett, a historical South Carolina figure who was botanist and experimental farmer, the market is now just more casually called “Saturday Market.” Live music and cooking demonstrations round out the offerings, which run the gamut from produce and berries to plants, salsas, jams and jellies, cold-pressed juices, pies, pasta, cheese and lots more. The market opens May 3 and runs through October 25 from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Pepper Place Saturday Market
Situated in the trendy and historic Lakeview District, Pepper Place comes with a unique story behind its location. This 227,000-square-foot area was once the Dr. Pepper Syrup Plant and Bottling Company. Now the center of the Design District, the former plant houses the Terrific New Theater, restaurants, shops, galleries, businesses and a farmers market. The market currently has over 75 vendors ranging from all types of fresh produce to spices, handmade pottery and jewelry and even all-natural dog treats. Pepper Place opens April 12 and runs every Saturday through mid-December from 7 a.m.-noon.
Nashville Farmers Market
Much more than just a farmers market, Nashville’s runs year-round and includes traditional market offerings, a Market House of 15 restaurants and shops and a Grow Local Kitchen for culinary classes. A Flea Market is also open Friday-Sunday with up to 50 merchants selling everything from handcrafted pottery and jewelry to home goods and clothing. Weekends are also busiest for the traditional market side, which really gets going during growing season from May to November.
Statesboro Main Street Farmers Market
Farms and vendors from across the Southern region of Georgia head to Statesboro on Saturday mornings and set up in the Sea Island Bank parking lot downtown. This time of year, the market has a fresh selection of produce, berries and homemade products from grits to honey and baked goods. There’s also eggs, herbs and flowers and meats from Hunter Cattle. The market does have tokens for use if you forget the cash and starts up April 5 from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Western North Carolina Farmers Market
Asheville, North Carolina
Open seven days a week year-round, this market located near downtown Asheville sits on 36 acres and boasts a stunning panoramic view of the Smoky Mountains and the Biltmore Estate. Under the five open-air truck sheds you’ll find Carolina specialties such as jams, jellies, preserves, and sourwood honey. The market also houses Jesse Israel & Sons Garden and Nursery Center featuring tropical plants, bonsai, water plants and a forty-foot waterfall. The Moose Café is also located south of the main market entrance featuring a menu of farm-fresh produce and more gorgeous views of the mountain scenery.
Foods you’ll find at the market soon: spring radishes, flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, peaches, cantaloupes, strawberries, Valencia oranges, artichokes, green onions, snap beans, snow peas, spinach, rhubarb, arugula, sweet onions, beets, mint, Caraway thyme, local honey, blackberries, plums, green beans, watermelons, corn, tomatoes, summer squash, okra and raspberries.
Other markets our readers love: Historic Roanoke City Market, Mt. Pleasant Farmers’ Market, SFC Farmers Market Downtown in Austin, Travelers Rest Farmers Market, Winter Park Farmers’ Market, Oxford Farmers’ Market.
Farmers Market Shopping Tips from Tupelo
1. Use the market as a place to plan your meal. Go to the market and get inspired. Learn to shop and eat “seasonally.” Produce harvested and picked fresh always taste better and will enhance any meal.
2. Talk to the producer. Get invaluable information on even the most common fruits and vegetables.
3. Buy a new item every once in a while. Ask the person next to you or the grower to give you some ideas on how to use the item. Or trust in your intuition and take it home, taste it raw, steam, roast, grill or stir-fry whatever is in season. This is one of the ways to creative cooking.
4. Get the kids involved. Give them a few dollars and let them buy whatever produce they want and will eat. It’s a great way to make them responsible rather for eating fruits and vegetables.
5. Take your favorite basket or cloth bag. It’s sustainable and environmentally friendly.
6. Recycle your plastic bags. After each market, tuck them back into your market basket. Again, it’s an environmentally friendly thing to do.
7. Use your senses to find the best items. Smell, touch (gently) and taste.
8. Bring a friend to the market. Turn someone else on to the rich satisfaction that can be found through the food and community at the farmers market.
Photo credits, from top: Blueberries from Statesboro market by Deep South, Charleston market from Charleston Farmers Market Facebook page, radishes from Eureka Springs Farmers Market Facebook page, Pepper Place from pepperplacemarket.com, Tennessee strawberries from Nashville Farmers’ Market Facebook page and grits from Statesboro market by Deep South.