George Washington’s Produce: Five Historic Farmers’ Markets To Visit This Summer
August 19, 2014 | Marianne Peters
One of the pleasures of late summer is a trip to a farmers’ market, when the fresh produce is in abundance. No pale-faced supermarket tomatoes here: vendor stalls overflow with the fruits of their labor, and there’s not a shrink-wrapped zucchini in sight. While a plethora of new farmers’ markets have been established in many communities in response to the growing demand for local food, but they are hardly a new concept.
Here are five markets still thriving, even hundreds of years after their founding.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Lancaster Central Market
The country’s oldest farmers’ market started out in 1730, when Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s city fathers set aside an open space in the center of town for a public market. In 1889, the current Romanesque Revival market house was built. Though the inside of the structure has been remodeled over the years, the exterior of the magnificent red-brick building is essentially unchanged. Some of the market stands have been operated by generations of the same families. This large market features locally grown produce and flowers, but visitors will also find specialty groceries, ethnic foods, and stands featuring coffees and tea, candy, sandwiches, frozen treats, home decor, and Pennsylvania Dutch specialties.
Alexandria, Virginia: Old Town Farmers’ Market
George Washington didn’t sleep here, but he did send produce from Mount Vernon to this market in Alexandria, Virginia. Founded in 1752, the market has been held on the same site and operated continuously for 260 years. The market is open year round and features over seventy vendors selling produce, meat, poultry, and fish, cheeses, breads, cheeses, potted plants, and arts and crafts. Members of the community share food demonstrations, lead yoga classes, and entertain with Irish dancing and music by local school orchestras.
Easton, Pennsylvania: Easton Farmers’ Market
On July 8, 1776, on Centre Square where the Easton Farmers’ Market still stands, one of just three public readings of the Declaration of Independence was heard. The market was actually founded a couple decades before the Revolution, in 1752. Nowadays visitors can browse the stalls on Saturdays and Wednesdays for fruits and vegetables, dairy products, pastured meats, specialty foods, flowers, and crafts. Special events unique to this market include Kids’ Farm Day, roller derby demonstrations, zucchini-car races, and special celebrations of the fruits or vegetables at the height of their season.
St. Louis, Missouri: Soulard Farmer’s Market
The Soulard Farmers Market began in St. Louis, Missouri in 1779, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market west of the Mississippi. The market grounds were originally owned by Antoine Soulard, but his claim to the land was jeopardized in 1803 by the Louisiana Purchase. After years of legal wrangling, his widow acquired the deed for the land and set aside two city blocks for a farmers’ market. The market is housed in two buildings: one built in the late 1840’s and one built in 1929 (modeled, interestingly enough, after a foundling hospital in Florence, Italy, built in 1419). At this market, visitors can buy produce, meats (including raccoon and live chickens), flowers, crafts, and baked goods. There’s also a flea market on site. The market also hosts a concert series, featuring performers steeped in the rich and soulful tradition of St. Louis blues music. Find the market on
Seattle, Washington: Pike Place Market
A little farther west of the Mississippi, Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington is famous for coffee and fish-throwing, but many may not realize that it is one of the country’s oldest farmers’ markets, originally founded in 1907. The market is actually located in a nine-acre downtown historic district and operates year-round, with over 80 Washington vendors selling their wares, including the famous fishmongers at Pike Place Fish Company who entertain visitors with their fish-throwing antics. There is a also daily crafts market and over 200 owner-operated shops and services. Visitors can pet Rachael the Piggybank (weighing in at 550 pounds), enjoy street performers, shop for arts and crafts, and sample specialty foods. And don’t forget that cup of coffee. Find them on Twitter, Facebook,Pinterest, and Tumblr, or click this link.