Central Pennsylvania is lucky to have seven local-producer only farmers markets in addition to many farm stands to keep locavores well supplied. Almost every day of the week you can shop at a farmers market and talk to the people who are growing/raising/making your food and some days you have multiple options. Each market has its own personality, depending on the vendors, the setting and how the market is managed and each market changes each season. Here are some highlights from each of the producer-only markets with some notes about what is new.
The newest market of all is in Lemont and has served as an incubator for fledgling businesses since 2012. The “Lemontois” (my own term, after the Grenoblois or residents of Grenoble, France) are community-minded folk, who enjoy communal gatherings on their “Green” in the center of town. It’s fun to visit the village, especially when the market is open.
Walking out of the Lemont Farmers Market last Wednesday, I took a shortcut and walked down the railroad tracks to get to my car parked on Berry Street. I was instantly transported to my childhood, stepping lightly on every other tie, enjoying the flashback to summers spent with my grandmother in southeastern Ohio. I spent a lot of time playing on coal train tracks that bisected Fairpoint. I also spent a lot of time helping harvest vegetables in her garden, picking berries for jam and gathering walnuts and cracking them for fragrant nut rolls. In my mind, railroad tracks and homemade food are linked.
The same connection takes place every Wednesday in Lemont. The market takes place next to the Granary, with some of the vendors actually tucked into the cool shade of the coal sheds underneath the John I. Thompson Grain Elevator, an 1885 historic landmark.
“We are still looking for more vendors, especially meat and dairy farmers,” said market manager Anna Kochersperger, a Boalsburg native who sells natural and holistic body products at her stand Rothrock Botanicals.
Mark MacDonald, of Bee Tree Berry Farm in Bellefonte, enjoys the ambiance at the Granary, with a shady yard and the Food for Thought food truck parked nearby. “I know where I’ll be headed for supper,” said MacDonald, since the “global street food” offered by food truck owners Mitch and Sharon Graf Angle included a Korean-style pulled pork sandwich among other enticing sounding dishes.
“I never had such delicious mac ‘n cheese,” asserted Fasta Pasta and Good Seed table tender Shawn Sinawa. “Last week they were giving away free samples, and now we are all hooked.”
Save room for dessert at Serendipity Cakes of Distinction, where Carrie Williams provides cakes and baked goods from her “limited allergen bakery environment” in Pleasant Gap. At the small shop, no wheat, no gluten, so soy, no peanuts and no tree nuts are used. If you are concerned about these issues and have been denying yourself the simple pleasure of pastries, check out Serendipity so you can have your cake and eat it too.
Lisa Beightol is a Lemont market craft vendor with a business called Surly Hedgehog. In spite of the implied rough edge, Beightol’s photographs are evocative and some are handily made into craft items. The little wine charms with photos of native flora and fauna will be especially useful later in the season when Linda Weaver from Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery rolls some barrels down the mountain for tasting at the market.
Vegetable seekers in Lemont have a couple of different options with Veg Out and Scenic View Farm offering whatever is in season. Once the garlic is harvested in July and cured to sell, Laurie Fedon Lynch will have a table called Garlic 101 devoted to the allium family. And if you feel a might peckish around all that food, try Brazilian Munchies, for a gluten free stuffed cheese bread called Pao de Queijo made with tapioca flour or an authentic Brigadeiro, a Brazilian-style truffle in assorted flavors. Owners Flavia and Nicholas Barger also make tri-cornered wheat pastries filled with Over the Moon sausage and other savory fillings. Don’t miss getting to know Brazilian Munchies before they make their trajectory to the big time.
Speaking of big time, that’s the Friday State College Downtown Market. It’s the original and the most difficult of the markets to get into as a vendor. Several of the anchor vendors — Tait Farm, Way Fruit Farm, Patchwork Farm and Harner Farm — have been involved for decades. Yes, parking is a problem but not for the hoard of students that live downtown and welcome the chance to get fresh produce, fresh flowers and plants and raw milk and raw milk ice creams and cheeses. Tip: go in the summer when the crowds are down and the vegetable offerings are up.
The newest vendor at the Friday market is The Bacrey, run by Samantha (call her Sam) Doan, who is aligned with Ardry Farms from Bellefonte. More correctly, Sam is engaged to Mark Ardry and there is a delicious horizon ahead, filled with old fashioned baked goods as well as gluten free options made with ingredients from the farm and other local producers. Her energy bar will make you forget all about those Kind bars.
My favorite way to spend a Saturday is to visit all three of the local farmers markets. The Bellefonte producer-only market at the Gamble Mill opens first, at 8 a.m., and if you are intent on getting anything like peas from Cramer Farms or strawberries from Bee Tree Berry Farm, you had better be there early. Anne Brooks of A.B.B. Bison farm is at this market only with cuts of bison and, occasionally, her pet buffalo Bentley. A new vendor this season is Oatastic Creations with baked oatmeal muffins, though I hear glowing reports about the cinnamon buns from the amish vendor. This market by the stream is easy access for fishermen who would like to sample some of the Bee Kind Winery offerings.
Next stop, head to Millheim via Route 144 over Centre Hall Mountain. There’s a back way to go, if you want to get into the scenic and circuitous Appalachian hollows of our region. The Millheim Farmers Market is outdoors now on Route 45 at the American Legion pavilion and it runs 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with well-established vendors like Cow-a-Hen Farm with pastured beef, pork, chicken and guinea hens. Stone Meadow Farm sells artisan cheeses and beef and Tamarack Farm sells eggs, produce, wool craft items and lamb and lamb sausage when it is available. Garden Secrets, a new vendor with delicious gourmet versions of homemade ketchup and mustard, is not to be missed, especially during barbecue season. The Penns Valley Learning Garden is located next to the pavilion so bring your gardening questions to be answered by the experts. If you want to learn about medicinal herbs, talk to Jennifer Tucker who is at the garden each Saturday during market hours. Warren Leitzell is there for general gardening, compost and pest control questions.
The North Atherton Farmers Market is the largest market in the area and draws a big crowd each Saturday, with its convenient location in the Home Depot lot. Very family friendly, this market has a big open courtyard with 30 vendors around the perimeter. There is seating in the center and Café Karla serves Cheese Shoppe coffee drinks and prepared foods from Eden View Plow to Platter, El Gringo Taco Truck, Hostetler’s Kitchen and the Bacrey at Ardry Farms provide a wide range of fresh dining options. There’s even wine from Happy Valley Winery if you care to go that direction. Tait Farm has been added to the vendor list this year at this market and their line of shrubs, jams, jellies and chutneys will enhance all the raw ingredients you select.
Best to stock up at this market because you will have to wait two whole days before the Tuesday State College Farmers Market is open and you can get your Spring Bank Acres raw dairy products. Moser’s Garden Produce always has a dazzling vegetables and check out Betsy Green at Egg Hill Gardens for unusual cut herbs and heirloom vegetables. Larksmith Manor has plants, if you are still putting in perennials and Yetti Coffee, enriched with coconut oil and butter, will supercharge your afternoon with boundless energy, or the jitters, depending on your constitution.
Last but by no means least, the Boalsburg Farmers Market is my personal favorite for a very valid reason — it is closest to me. Easy parking, a stream and historic site compete with tanks to climb on makes this market a destination for families every Tuesday. Patchwork Farm, Fasta & Ravioli, Clan Stewart, Wild for Salmon, Byler Goat Dairy (do not miss the goat milk ice cream and chocolate milk) — more reasons to connect with your local farmers. While it can be more expensive that trolling the grocery stores, your dollars mean more. Shingletown resident Sam Hargrave supports local markets because “it’s an investment in our local lifestyle. That money gets recirculated locally in the same things that we believe in.”
For more information about all the local farmers markets, check out the Buy Fresh Buy Local.