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Farmers’ markets date back several centuries in the U.S. and are deeply rooted in our country’s history. Traditionally, these markets were a simple gathering of farmers who came to hawk their seasonal products, and the concept hasn’t changed much since those early days.
Farmers’ markets are now held across the nation, from major cities to small towns. Some of America’s oldest markets have hosted significant events over three centuries, and are still selling the same goods that were popular in the early colonial days. Here are some of the oldest farmers’ markets in the U.S. and the stalls you shouldn’t miss.
Lancaster Central Market (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
First opened to the public in 1730, Lancaster Central Market claims the title of oldest continuously running public farmers’ market in the U.S. It began when New World settlers Andrew and Ann Hamilton generously lent a 120-square-foot plot of land from their private estate for local farmers to gather and sell their seasonal produce. In 1742, King George II declared Lancaster an official market town that would host two markets each week. The townspeople fully embraced the honor, appointing a market clerk and eventually building the Market House in 1889 — a structure still standing in Penn Square.
Today, the Lancaster Central Market hosts more than 60 vendors and countless patrons on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Home-grown produce, locally-sourced meat, cheese, and international cuisine are all sold fresh. Must-hit stalls include Inna’s for vegan pierogi, Amish Family Recipes for all sorts of jarred goods, and Crowded Kitchen for homemade broths (and other soups) on tap.
Pike Place Market (Seattle)
The original Seattle market is much more than a place to buy local produce and artisan goods; it’s also a bar, entertainment center, and festival venue. Sometimes referred to as “the soul of Seattle,” Pike Place Market has been operating for over a century. Since 1907, the nine-acre market has been a focal point of city life — a place where artists, farmers, small business owners, and locals can come together as a community.
From espresso bars to fish markets, Pike Place is the ideal place to take your family, a date, or to grab lunch and get your shopping done. Some popular items to purchase include Pacific salmon (fresh and smoked) and Washington Rainier cherries (fresh, dried, or chocolate-covered). After dark, the market is especially popular during happy hour — animated with the glow string lights and the sounds of live entertainment, such as Can Can Culinary Cabaret.
Easton Farmers’ Market (Easton, Pennsylvania)
The Easton Farmers’ Market is the oldest, continuously operating open-air market in the nation, and its location is the site of one of the only public readings of the Declaration of Independence. Established in 1752, the market offers shoppers locally-grown produce and locally-raised meat, most of which is organic and hormone-free. Even their prepared foods are made from locally-sourced ingredients as much as possible.
Some unique stalls include Bella’s Bistro Dog Wellness and Pet Café (selling nutrient-rich, small-batch dog food), De Novo Vegan Creamery, and FD Market Mobile, a zero-waste “refillery” that supplies bulk household items to customers with their personal containers. Shoppers can also enjoy the talent of local musicians, showcased every Saturday as part of the Market Music Series.
Old Town Farmers’ Market (Alexandria, Virginia)
Touted as one of the oldest farmers’ markets in the country, the Old Town Farmers’ Market has been running since 1753. President George Washington — an avid agriculturalist — even sent produce from his farms at Mount Vernon to be sold there.
Each Saturday, rain or shine, 70-plus vendors set up in front of Alexandria City Hall to sell fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, baked goods, fresh pasta, and pickled vegetables, along with flowers, jewelry, and artwork. The market gives back to the local community as well, hosting the Bike for Good Food Rescue, a volunteer-led program that delivers donated food to Alexandria residents in need.
Eastern Market (Detroit, Michigan)
The largest historic public market in the U.S., Eastern Market is dedicated to a “healthier, wealthier, happier Detroit.” The impressive layout includes five massive sheds across 4.5 acres and over 225 vendors selling local produce, poultry, and much more. On any given Saturday, it’s estimated that about 40,000 people pass through the grounds.
Eastern Market also boasts the country’s largest outdoor flower bed market on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, which is a sight to behold. The origin of the now-booming complex traces back to a humble, early 19th-century farmers market in Cadillac Square, roughly 1.5 miles from today’s market site. After joining forces with a hay and wood market, located on the current site, in 1891, the first stalls were built in 1891 the Eastern Market was born.
Soulard Farmers’ Market (St. Louis, Missouri)
In operation since 1779, Soulard Farmers’ Market is the oldest farmers’ market west of the Mississippi. Rain or shine, Soulard is a year-round market for St. Louis’ freshest produce, seafood, baked goods, and more. Fridays and Saturdays draw a crowd with 147 stalls packed into the Renaissance-style building known as the Grand Hall, but a number of vendors show up Wednesday through Sunday to sell their goods five days a week.
Soulard Market and the surrounding neighborhood get their name from a Frenchman named Antoine Pierre Soulard, an early settler, government official, and a surveyor for the king of Spain. After Soulard died in 1825, his wife, Julia, donated two blocks of land to be used as a permanent market. Soulard Market traces its earliest roots to 1779, but it was never a cemented fixture until Julia’s generous gift of land. Soulard is one of the oldest sections of St. Louis and historic homes still line the charming streets, with the historic market at its center.