Sunday, September 27, 2009

What Good Towns Have in Common

On our blog network, Best Places to Shop & Walk, we feature towns and cities that have walkable, interesting downtowns, with a good supply of unique local shops and restaurants. While uploading some new posts the other day, I realized that they all have something else in common: vital and popular farmers markets!

For instance, the Aspen Saturday Market spans two long city blocks, in an "L" formation. Starting at City Hall, on East Hopkins Street and Galena, at this time of year, you'll be met by the hypnotic aroma of the fresh-pepper-roasting contraption at the farm stand. You can buy bags of the stuff, hot off the grate.

Next to that booth is Sinful Sugar, which enjoys droves of locals and tourists lining up to indulge in the most delectable and artistically beautiful pastries, all reassuring themselves and anyone who'll listen that the calories and carbs are offset by the all-natural ingredients used by the talented family baking team.

Behind them, in the tiny park behind Aspen City Hall, is a food court with coffees, teas, wraps, and breakfast treats you can eat right there, sitting at picnic tables.

Continuing along E. Hopkins, you're drawn into the juried arts vendors' booths, where you'll ooh and aah over knitwear, jewelry, natural skin creams, pillows and throws, metal sculpture, pottery, and handbags. More produce, organic meats, flowers, and wine.

At the corner of Hopkins & Hunter, there's a convenient tent set up with chairs to sit and enjoy the live music performers playing under its shade.

On Hunter St., Cathy Crenshaw Jewelers and Rebecca Bourke Designs usually have loyal customers and new visitors poring over their jewelry displays, looking for gotta-have-'em special necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings. If you're still hungry after breakfast, or having guests over later, Louis Swiss Bakery's cart is laden with fresh breads, quiches, savory and sweet pastries. There's also a booth with frozen tamales (sooo good) and salsa. And fresh pastas, more flowers, childrens' clothes, leather journals, hats, women's clothing, more produce, all the way down the block.

From its early beginnings as a one-block farmers market years ago to the place to be in Aspen on Saturdays, the Aspen Saturday Market has come a long way.

In Sarasota FL, there are two thriving markets, the Downtowns Sarasota Farmers Market, on Lemon Avenue, from State Street to First Street, every Saturday year-round, 7AM - Noon; and Siesta Key Farmers Market, in the Davidson's Drug parking lot in Siesta Village, every Sunday year-round from 7AM - Noon.

At the Downtown market, there's a mix of produce, flowers, plants, prepared foods, and arts and crafts vendors. As in Aspen, this market has become the place to be on Saturday mornings in Sarasota, with the usual compliment of people and dogs of all sizes and breeds sampling the goods. During Season, of course, the crowds are thicker and more varied in native tongue, as tourists and snowbirds from the U.S., Canada and Europe join the fun.

The Siesta Key Farmers Market is smaller and feels a bit more specialized, with an emphasis on organics and including only foods and flowers, no arts and crafts. It also helps support local chefs by offering a Taste Of The Village with area restaurants serving farm fresh items from their menus. Located right across the street from a few of the most popular local breakfast spots, this market gets both destination shoppers and impulse strollers.

The Westhampton Beach Farmers Market sets up on Mill Road next to the WHB Historical Society behind the Westhampton Fire House. Open on Saturdays, from 9AM - 1PM until the middle of November, the market is mostly a food, produce, and flowers market, with a few craft vendors here and there. The vegetables, fruit and eggs are all organic. You can also find pickles, goat cheese, Mecox cheeses, flowers, honey, Fat Ass Fudge (!) , and other items from the 25 vendors.

In the Library parking lot next to the Municipal Building on Maple Avenue is where you'll find the Hastings on Hudson Farmers Market, on Saturdays from 8:30AM to 2PM, through the third week in November. At this all-food market, over 30 vendors ply their goods in categories such as produce, bread, wines, chutney, desserts, pepper sauces, coffee, lasagna, honey, muesli, pickles, fish, and knife-sharpening! There's also live music, and as the market has grown, it's now spilling onto the lawn in front of the Library.

The NJ Transit train station in Westfield NJ is a central feature of the downtown, and its major parking lot is on the south side of the platform, on South Avenue. That's where you'll find the Westfield Farmers Market
on Saturdays from 8:30am - 2:00pm through November 7th. You may be in suburban New Jersey at this market, but that doesn't mean you can't pretend you're on an island vacation when there's a booth like MauiWowi serving coffee and smoothies. There are produce, prepared foods, and baked goods vendors here, as well.

Finally, of course New York City has numerous farmers markets and huge ones, such as the fabled Union Square Farmers Market, which is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 8AM-6PM, year round. Wow. Check out the Web site of the Council on the Environment of New York City for locations and details about all the farmers markets in Manhattan and the boroughs.