Looking for true locavore experience? Take a bite out of a farmers market.
Along with produce — from apples to zucchini — you're likely to find locally sourced meats and seafood, cheeses, baked goods and eggs. Herbs and spices. Pestos, salsas, honey, jams and maple syrup. Soaps, flowers and hand-woven wools. Homemade dog treats.
You might even find petting zoos and strolling musicians.
In a landscape of sterile supermarket superstores and cellophane-wrapped food, all of that diversity makes for a unique shopping experience — and one that's growing in popularity as fast as corn in August.
"More and more, people like eating local, they like the freshness of the food, they like spending money in their communities and they like meeting the farmers," says Linda Piotrowicz from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. "There a huge consumer demand for a personal connection to the goods we buy."
The response to that growing demand is adding up to a bumper crop of seasonal pop-up shops on town greens, city squares and church parking lots.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, farmers markets in the U.S. have nearly doubled since 2004, with more than 7,000 nationwide.
Connecticut has 123 certified farmers markets, ranging in size from tiny — just two or three farmers — to dozens of vendors.
"To be a Connecticut certified market, they've got to start with Connecticut-grown fruits and vegetables," says Piotrowicz. "Sky's the limit after that."
Some have seasonal fruits and vegetables only, while others offer a wide range of foods including organic and heirloom fruits and vegetables, yoga and tai chi classes, cooking demonstrations, entertainment and children's activities.
"Each one is different and each has their own character," says Piotrowicz. "We've got the basic farmers markets, where you go and grab your veggies and leave and we've got the destination farmers markets, where you go and spend the day."
Some of Connecticut's markets have gained national attention. The Bozrah Farmers Market was voted Connecticut's favorite mid-sized market in the American Farmland Trust Contest and placed 10th nationally in the mid-size market category.
Yankee Magazine ranked the Coventry Regional Farmers Market as one of New England's five best and the best in Connecticut, in their "Markets of New England" article.
Hartford's Northend Farmers' Market made American Farmland Trust's Top 20 list for small farmers markets in 2012. CitySeed Farmers Market in New Haven placed in the same list's top 20 for medium-sized markets.
Most markets are open from May through September; a few, like Coventry Regional Farmers' Market and Billings Forge Farmers' Market in Hartford, operate year-round.
Connecticut Farmers' Market Trail (www.farmersmarkettrail.com) highlights a diverse group of 15 markets across the state, including Chester's European-style, Sunday market, held in the town's center and the Stonington Village Farmers' Market, held seaside on Saturdays on the town's docks.
The Central Regional Tourism District offers a 2013 "Central Connecticut's Gardens & Farmers' Markets" pocket guide which includes locations, schedules and featured goods at some of the state's farmers' markets. You can download the brochure at www.CenterofCT.com or request a free copy by calling 860-787-9640. (The organization's website includes a more complete list.)
A number of websites, including FarmFresh.org, LocalHarvest.org and Farmland.org, offer updated lists of farmers markets. Farmstand, an iOS app available in the iTunes store, allows users to find nearby farmer's markets, hours and directions and share photos and updates of their experiences on social media.
Here's a few area markets to get you started:
Billings Forge Farmers' Market: 539 Broad St. in Hartford. The summer market, held outside, is open Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (The winter market, which runs November through May on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., is held inside.) One of Hartford's largest farmers' market, the weekly happening features produce, fruits, and flowers, breads, fresh dairy products, locally made Italian ice, eggs, jams, pickles, soaps, and locally roasted coffees.
Information: www.billingsforgeworks.org/farmers-market or 860-548-9877 ext. 217.
Wethersfield Farmers' Market: 220 Hartford Avenue., on the grounds of the Solomon Wells House. Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m. through October 31. More than 40 vendors show up weekly to sell locally grown produce, organic produce, herbs, flowers, baked goods, cheese, home and other specialty items. The event also features entertainment and tai chi and yoga demonstrations. Information: www.wethersfieldfarmersmarket.com.
Coventry Regional Farmers' Market: 2299 South St. on the grounds of the Nathan Hale Homestead. Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Oct. 27. This weekly event bills itself as a "country fair every Sunday" and specializes in organic, heirloom, ethnic and gourmet varieties of fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, milk, yogurt, smoked bacon, rustic breads, farmstead cheeses, European pastries, salsa, pesto, fresh herbs, cut flowers, chocolate fudge, honey and maple syrup. The market also features the work of local artists and artisans, such as hemp clothing, goat's milk soaps, beeswax candles, stoneware, herbal tinctures, handcrafted beadwork, vintage cotton tote bags, and handspun yarns. Information: www.coventryfarmersmarket.com.
The Old Saybrook Farmers' Market, 210 Main Street, is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. from June 29 until Oct. 30. Two dozen vendors sell free range eggs, baked good, Italian ice, heirloom and organic produce, berries and jams, hand-crafted pottery, locally raised beef, fresh fish, maple products, fresh roasted coffee beans and more. Information: www.oldsaybrookfarmersmarket.com
Hartford's North End Farmers' Market, in front of the North End Senior Center on 80 Coventry St., is open every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. from the end of June to the end of October. Market vendors offer fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables from area farms, entertainments and children's activities. Information: hwww.hartfordfarmersmarkets.org/north-end or 860-296-9325 x101.
Also in Hartford, the Regional Market, 101 Reserve Road, operates a farmers market with close to 50 vendors in a 170-foot-by-50-foot, open-air pavilion on weekends through mid-fall. Gates are open from 4 to 10 a.m. The market features trees, hanging plants, shrubs, perennials, and bedding plants, along with fruits, vegetables, cut flowers, honey, eggs, and maple syrup. (Bring a flashlight and a wagon or cart to carry your purchases back to the parking lot.) Many vendors have credit card capabilities. Information: 860-527-5047 or www.ct.gov/doag.Copyright © 2015, CT Now