Connecticut Farmers' Markets: Farm Fresh
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.
The Farmers’ Market at Fairfield Hills
June–October, Tuesdays 2–6 p.m.
On a mission to “provide the best locally grown and produced veggies, preserves and farm-raised products that Connecticut has to offer,” this late-afternoon soirée of organic goods is a wonderful reprieve from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Sheltered by mammoth oak trees that line the campus of Fairfield Hills (once a mental-health hospital), this market is in its 11th year of operation. It’s just steps away from the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard barn, home to one of the oldest cavalry units in continuous service in the United States.
One will find more than apples and carrots for well-deserving equine here; there’s a wealth of healthy fare to fill empty pantries. Among the brussels sprouts, sweet corn, watermelons and turnips, you’ll also find pickles, handmade soaps, maple syrup, fresh-cut flowers and baked goods. Don’t miss Waldingfield Farm’s heirloom tomato Farmer’s Bloody Mary mix and black Spanish radishes. And no one can leave this festival of fresh food without a taste of its famous lemonade and a bagful of Daffodil Hill Growers’ “love apple” tomatoes—including beefsteak, Cherokee purple, Lemon Boy and green-shouldered heirloom varieties.
Billings Forge Farmers’ Market
Year-round, Thursdays 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
In the heart of Hartford, a market bustles with shoppers, bringing garden goods to the city streets of the Frog Hollow neighborhood.
Set up in the historic courtyard at Billings Forge—a tool factory a century ago, since converted into apartments, cafés and performance space—a radiant array of towering sunflowers seemingly watch over this weekly souk from the community garden. Home to 47 garden beds, the fertile soil there produces in excess of 500 pounds of produce yearly, although it’s not all sold in the market.
But it’s not just fruits and veggies that attract customers to this greenway enclave, it’s items like creamy, goat-milk soap from Mountain Spring Farm and fresh fennel raisin bread from Hartford Baking Co. A stop at Chet’s Italian Ice provides a welcome respite from the summer heat. Each batch is made with local, organic, in-season products, in ever-changing flavors like mango, lemon basil, orange and coconut ginger.
Lyme Farmers’ Market
June–October, Saturdays 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Putting the farm in farmers’ market, this weekly market takes place right on the grounds of rustic Ashlawn Farm, offering “good stuff for good people.” Situated on 100 acres of lush green pastures, bound by miles of granite rock walls, the property was purchased by Ray Harding over a century ago and once was a thriving dairy farm. No longer a working farm, the spread still features the six original red barns, a 15-room farmhouse and exudes the earnest idea of a life spent working the earth.
Today, it’s still run by the Harding family, with owner Chip Dahlke (Harding’s grandson) at the helm. In addition to operating a robust coffee business and café as well as what Dahlke calls “the grandest farmers’ market in the Southeast [of Connecticut],” Ray Harding’s vision of farm life lives on.
The pastoral landscape lends itself perfectly to a traditional New England farmers’ market, contributing to its 2011 ranking as the 4th Best Small Farmers’ Market in the Nation by Farmland Trust. It’s no wonder patrons flock here to fill their arms with crusty breads and crisp veggies, aged cheeses and ripe fruit freshly plucked from the vine.
Many prefer to devour purchases on the spot, laying claim to carefully chosen tufts of grass and treating themselves to one of Dahlke’s 27 varieties of Ashlawn Farm Coffees. Others chow down on a Farm to Hearth brick-fired, handmade pizza with fresh kale, basil, roasted purple beets, onions, peppers and whole-milk mozzarella.
CitySeed Farmers’ Market
Year-round, Summer Saturdays 9 a.m.–1 p.m.
Winter Saturdays 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
New Haven residents have so many amazing things right at their fingertips—museums, great restaurants, award-winning pizza, Yale University and more. The founders of CitySeed wanted to add the ability to buy locally grown produce and other goods to that list, so the year-round Wooster Square Farmers’ Market was born. Its mission: “To engage the community in growing an equitable, local food system that promotes economic development and sustainable agriculture.” Today CitySeed runs four additional markets in the city—in Fair Haven, downtown, Edgewood Park and The Hill.
Making fresh edibles available to all denizens of New Haven, this market was the first in the state to accept SNAP/EBT cards (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). For that and its nutrition-education programs, CitySeed won national recognition from the USDA as a “Golden Grocer Hunger Champion” in the farmers’ market category.
For three hours each week, the colorful urban emporium acts as a pop-up supermarket of sorts, offering breads, maple syrup and cookies of the most unusual sort, as well as veggies, eggs, grass-fed beef, Connecticut-made cheeses and organic dog treats.
“The foods are fresh, and we are supporting local farmers,” says regular Phil Tombaugh, who frequents the market with his four children. “But it’s really about what we are eating and giving to our kids.”
Dudley Farm Farmers’ Market
June–October, Saturdays 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Here’s a market with an idyllic setting steeped in history. Nestled on 10 acres of prime farmland in North Guilford, Dudley Farm was owned by the same family for over 300 years until 1991, when David Dudley, the last of the family line, willed it to the Guilford Fire Department. It now operates as a nonprofit.
A working farm, it also functions as a museum with the original farmhouse, barn, outbuildings and period garden. Educational demonstrations like that of blacksmith Al Kostuk, with his portable double bellows, are regular events; you might also see soap making, sheep shearing or relish making.
Dudley Farm showcases the country side of Guilford, and is manned by locals such as Cathy Provencher, who happily provides loyal customers with her sought-after sunflower, broccoli, radishes, mung beans and pea sprouts. Other vendors offer every other veggie you can think of, as well as grass-fed beef, bakery products, farm-fresh eggs and all kinds of crafts.
Stonington Farmers’ Market
May–October, Saturdays 9 a.m.–12 p.m.
Saltwater laps against the hulls of docked boats as this waterfront haven brings farmers, fishermen and customers together, transforming a simple parking lot into a fresh-food mecca. Staying true to Stonington’s storied history, this market overlooking Quiambaug Cove offers abundant seafood—scallops, flounder, cod, clams and swordfish—literally right off boats such as the Jenna Lynn.
Market stalwarts Belinda and Ed Learned from Stony Ledge Farm supply the market with fresh beef, roasts, ribs, pork chops, sausage, bacon, kielbasa and broiler chickens. “Our cows are grazed on the pastures you pass by every day,” says Learned. “Knowing where your food comes from and what it’s been eating is a luxury of shopping at farmers’ markets.”
Echoing that sentiment, Robert Burns of Aiki Farm, who brings his hydroponically grown organic shoots and sprouts, adds, “Farmers’ markets get consumers in direct contact with the highest quality nutritional foods.”
Litchfield Hills Farm-Fresh Market
Year-round, Saturdays 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
A must-stop for foodies, this market, located in the Litchfield Hills, is a delight for those who enjoy the art of foraging for novel selections such as maple syrup milk shakes, patriotic red, white and blue potatoes and “duckos” for dinner.
Capturing the essence of a truly food-driven happening, this bazaar sets up in the heart of the Litchfield Historic District. Professional chefs frequently demonstrate their craft here, offering a riot of interesting aromas, colors and tastes. Jonathan Gyles from the Litchfield Inn, for one, gains inspiration from the fresh fare to create savory samples, including curry, salmon, goat cheese and mousse tartlets.
“We have great food available in our own communities. I personally go into the fields with farmers and pick the food I’ll use at the restaurant,” says Gyles. “Patrons are more excited when the food is from local farms.”
For the at-home chef, the stall of MarWin Farm piques interest. The board lists Pulling My Leg, Skinny Fat and duck sausage. Owner Joanne Dahill explains: “Pulling My Leg is fully cooked Peking duck leg meat, great for making everything, but especially good in duck tacos or ‘duckos.’” Skinny Fat is rendered duck fat, packed with flavor and great to cook with, while duck sausage is made with leg and thigh meat, roasted garlic, spinach and feta cheese. Dahill also offers Coturnix quail, partridge, chicken and turkey.
You can’t get foods like this in the aisles of your grocery store!