Connecticut Farmers' Markets: Farm Fresh
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No matter how much humans evolve, we are hardwired to hunt and gather our food. Nowadays, that means scouring grocery-store aisles and ferreting out the best restaurants. However, from early summer through late fall, Nutmeggers look outside to the farmlands, village centers, city streets and historic landmarks of Connecticut—once again celebrating the harvest, the farmers and, most importantly, the food.
According to Mark Zotti of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, there are 130 farmers’ markets statewide, with 300 participating farmers, up from just 66 in 2002.
“Towns are opening their doors once again to local, fresh food and farmers,” says Zotti. “The markets help support community, economy and business, and everyone is reaping the benefits.”
Here are some places to start your own farm-fresh treasure hunt:
Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market
June–October, Sundays 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
A Sunday excursion like no other, the popular Coventry market—the largest of its kind in the state—is celebrating its 10th season this year. Touting more than 50 vendors, 75,000 annual visitors, over $500,000 in proceeds and weekly themes such as the Fungus Festival, Peach Promenade and Summer Melon Soirée, each week is a salute to Connecticut spirit, held on the 500 acres of the Nathan Hale Homestead. State Hero Hale (“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”) never actually got to live on the property, where his father built the Georgian-style home in 1776.
Tagged as a destination outing with a “country fair” feel, this market advertises itself as “the pièce de résistance of any weekend.” It’s the epitome of what a modern-day farmers’ market should be—manned by a community that believes in food awareness, fresh locally grown and produced goods, community support and family fun.
Wandering through the sprawling market, you can visit with sheep and goats, pick out a yellow watermelon or buy pure maple-sugar cotton candy from Fabyan Sugar Shack. Indulge in a Parisian-style Nutella chocolate, pear, strawberry or sugar-and-butter crêpe from the La Petite France Crêpe Cart. Prowling around for something new? Try a perfect pickle at Christine’s Country Kitchen, where a sea of speared, chipped, sliced and diced mustard, bread-and-butter, kosher and garlic pickles await.
Coventry Market, which has battled zoning, traffic and space issues, last year won an open-air barn from W.H. Silverstein Inc. (sponsored by the Farmers Market Coalition and the American Farmland Trust). It also flaunts a number of other awards and honors, setting the bar high for other New England markets.
Mystic/Denison Farm Market
June–October, Sundays 12–3 p.m.
Just five minutes from downtown Mystic, this market offers more than bunches of organic veggies and unusual vittles to shoppers—it’s a testament to why markets are so important: because of the men and women, who toil the earth, sow the seeds and pamper the produce.
Here, in the field just below the 1717 Denison Farm Museum house, old-fashioned farmers’ principles are celebrated with perfectly sun-kissed corn, pale green cabbage, smooth purple eggplants, sticky sweet honey, tart vinegars and unusual garlic jellies.
The bounty is great, but the stories, lineage and history is even better. Like that of 87-year-old “Whit” Davis, who’s worked his whole life on the family farm, the oldest active one in Connecticut, in existence since 1654. Famous for his Indian flint corn meal, which is grown, stone-ground and packed on the Davis Farm in Pawcatuck, Davis says his family was given the corn seeds by Native Americans centuries ago. Returning that act of goodwill recently when Native Americans lost the last of those rare seeds, Davis says, “I brought those seeds back to them and donated mine to several different tribes including the Mohegans, the Wampanoags and the Navajo.”
When asked what’s the best part of being a farmer, Davis answers with a wide grin, “Right here! Getting the chance to tell others about farming and letting kids know where their food comes from.”
Built on that notion, this market is one of the founders of the Farmers’ Market Trail, a project of Bridges Healthy Cooking School, a 501c3 organization dedicated “to teaching healthy food preparation, the importance of consuming locally grown foods, nutrition and eating habits.” The trail was established in 2012 and features 10 markets as well as surrounding attractions, events and businesses.
Hill-Stead Museum Farmers’ Market
July–October, Sundays 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
Walking onto the 152 acres of the Hill-Stead Museum is like stepping into a Monet gardenscape. This market is in constant competition for attention with the apple blossoms, inviting verandas, an impeccably manicured sunken garden and landscaped grand vistas of this historic landmark, which has hosted Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy and . . . Anesthesia Faith, the Guernsey cow who produced a world-record 19,471 pounds of milk in one year.
Anesthesia belonged to Theodate Pope Riddle, one of the first women architects in the U.S., who designed the homestead here and ran a dairy farm and orchard on the property. Riddle loved the farming life, making it quite fitting that a regular farmers’ market is now held here.
A standing invitation to “come, shop the market and stay to experience Hill-Stead’s enchanting grounds” encourages visitors to enjoy miles of walking trails and front-porch rocking chairs of this gracious retreat. Explore the mansion itself and savor the artworks by Monet, Degas and Cassatt assembled by Pope’s father.
With inspiration in every direction, the fruits and veggies here seem especially more vibrant, epitomized by the bright, crisp, first-bloom apples and deep burgundy cherries of Belltown Hill Orchards.
June–October, Sundays 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
Once a week, the diminutive town of Chester, with its galleries, shops and elegant eateries, transforms its center into a European-style farmers’ market. Taking a cue from its artsy population, it colors its backdrop with orange and purple umbrellas, shielding café tables with a ringside seat for the musical talent of the week. Dog bowls full of water pepper the sidewalks, beckoning visitors to bring friends and family of all shapes and sizes.
Adding to what has become an ideal Sunday tradition for many—including famed chef Jacques Pépin—the area is shut down to car traffic allowing for a safe, carefree strolling experience. However, don’t lollygag if you want to score market specialties like Howard’s Breads or Chatfield Hollow shiitake and oyster mushrooms, which are grown herbicide- and pesticide-free and collected off sustainably harvested logs in nearby Killingworth. Trinity Farm offers premium yogurt, homemade butter, cream and milk, while River Chocolates purveys all manner of sugary confections. You can also pick up chevre from Beltane Farm, fresh flowers from Hay House and a fish dinner from Capt. Rich Cook.
Putnam Saturday Farmers’ Market
June–October, Monday & Thursday 3:30–6 p.m. Saturdays 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
The town of Putnam is known by connoisseurs far and wide for its abundance of fine antiques shops, but it’s the copious offerings of farm-fresh commodities at its three weekly farmers’ markets that get food lovers excited. Visitors can find goods like Indian Springs Farm’s assortment of organic vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers, or the heavenly treats and artisanal breads of Soleil & Suns Bakery.
The markets held on Monday and Thursday evenings are small traditional farm-stand-style gatherings run by farmers. The Saturday market organized by the town kicks it up a notch with art demonstrations, kids’ activities, special events, nutritional education and music.
Housed under the tin roof of the Riverview Marketplace, the open-air market is an inviting destination that cozies up to the Quinebaug River and a network of hiking and walking trails that are part of the East Coast Greenway.