Farmers market season is in full swing starting this week and locavores have their day in the sun, though if it’s a Tuesday, it’s more likely to be their day in the rain. Lyn Garling, of Over the Moon Farm, calls it the “Tuesday Rain Vortex,” reckoning that the late afternoon summer thundershowers generally hit at about 2 or 3 p.m.
In the rain or in the sun, Centre County is one of the best places in the country for the opportunity to purchase local food from the person who produces it. With seven producer-only markets in the area, there are only a few days a week where there is not a local market available. Increasingly, the markets are offering prepared foods, music, cooking demonstrations and other incentives to make the outdoor shopping experience a destination rather than an errand.
Tuesday starts the shopping week with two options. The State College farmers market on Locust Lane opens at 11:30 a.m. in time for lunch at El Gringo Taco Truck where you can purchase the guacamole du jour, which changes weekly depending on what fruits and vegetables are available. The truck is there until 1 p.m. and then moves to Boalsburg for the afternoon market in the spacious grounds of the Pennsylvania Military Museum from 2 to 6 p.m.
New vendors at the State College market, which is still building its arsenal, include Foot of the Mountain Farm from Concord, a village so deep in the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains that it takes them an hour to drive to any farmers market venue. The Varisano family, Lorenzo and Jessica, with help from Lorenzo’s brother Angelo, practice “regenerative agriculture,” which aims to build soil health through management that promotes nutrient retention and encourages pest and disease resistance. With Jerusalem artichokes and wild onions for sale, the Varisanos bring a new energy that finds value in the edible native plants that many of us tend to overlook.
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Other new vendors include Basically Bagels from Wellsboro, and Greenspace, the microgreen grow house centered in Tyrone that makes the nutrient-dense microgreens available to the home consumer. Tony Musso, the energetic president of the Tuesday market, the indoor winter market and Nittany Valley Organics co-owner, seeks to expand the market vendors to promote growth at a market often overlooked in favor of the splashier market with the heavy guns down in Boalsburg. His weekly email messages sent the day before market are an excellent resource to find out which vendors will be attending and what they will be bringing that week.
“The need for farmers markets is increasing daily as shoppers become more aware of all the benefits of buying directly from the growers without all the chemicals and GMOs so the demand is there. My job is to fill the demand by letting consumers know who, what, when and where. Adding vendors always helps a market put ‘more feet on the street,’ ” Musso said.
The Tuesday Boalsburg market is one of the contenders for most popular markets in the area, with many vendors and ample parking at the military museum parking lot. With tanks for the kids to play on, a pavilion with picnic tables near a stream and strolling minstrels, this market needs no introduction to most of the local population. This market now has 30 vendors, including Eden View Plow to Platter, Cow-a-Hen Farm, Piper’s Peck, Patchwork Farm, Way Fruit Farm, Clan Stewart, Over the Moon Farm, Good Intent Cider, Simply Mediterranean, Byler Goat Dairy, Fasta & Ravioli Co. — all big guns indeed.
Wednesday’s Lemont farmers market runs from 3 to 7 p.m. in the historic Coal Sheds at the Granary building, 133 Mount Nittany Road. You can purchase everything you need for your dinner there including vegetables from vendors Veg Out and Scenic View Farm; strawberries from Bee Tree Berry Farm; condiments like homemade ketchup and barbecue sauces from Garden Secrets; and gluten-free or traditional pasta from Fasta & Ravioli Co.
If you are coming after work, unwind with a glass of wine with Linda Weaver from Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery and a snack from Flavia Barger at Brazilian Munchies, who is likely to have a new assistant on hand this season, a very tiny one. The Food for Thought food truck is available at this market with their “global street food” menu and ready-to-eat fare. You can purchase herbal body products from market Manager Anna Kochersperger and do some gift shopping at Surly Hedgehog for matted and framed photos (and great little magnets and wine glass charms) or from Jane Robson at Crochet and Sew. This year, Cathie Pierce from Wing Haven Nursery will have native plants that attract pollinators and hummingbirds and, in August, Laurie Fedon Lynch, of Garlic 101, will put up her table with allium specialties. Most of the Lemont vendors will attend every week, but some are there only once a month. Speak with Kochersperger for the agenda — or if you are a farmer with milk or meat to sell.
The Friday State College farmers market is a mainstay of our local foodscape and strongly supported each week. It is the market that is most difficult to get into as a vendor and those that make it hang on to their table. Deb’s Flower Farm with native cut flowers and succulent arrangements has been brightening tables and dorm rooms for decades. Other anchors include Moser Garden Produce, Beiler Family Farm, Mountainside Produce & Bakery, Spring Bank Acres, Demeter’s Garden, Valley Grassfed, Woodside Acres, Gemelli Bakers and El Gringo Taco Truck. Well-nurtured house plants and perennials are available every week from Sarah Berndt, of Larksmith Manor. The Friday market is so popular that it is divided into early market, regular market and late market. You can keep abreast of what will be available at the Buy Fresh Buy Local Facebook page, and find more information at buylocalpa.org.
A perfect Saturday includes stops at all three of the Saturday producer-only markets starting with the Bellefonte farmers market at the Gamble Mill that runs from 8 a.m. until noon. It’s not the largest market, but it is one of the most charming with its location next to the stream and the occasional angler in fishoflage coming through with a rod to peruse the tables. It is also the only local market where you can purchase bison raised by Anne Brooks, of A.B.B. Bison Farm in Milesburg. Occasionally Brooks will bring in Bentley, her pet buffalo, for the delight and astonishment of all brave enough to stand near his sturdy, monogrammed holding pen.
Cramer Farms is also at this market and if there are wild mushrooms available in the woods, Diane Cramer will find them and have them for sale. She also cultivates some varieties like oyster and shiitake, a skill she perfects at her job at the Penn State mushroom test facility. Her vegetables, which she distributes through a popular Community Supported Agriculture, are always often heirloom and unusual varieties, in addition to the popular standards. Lois Stringer sells herbs at this market, some that she snips from big potted plants that she hauls in from her garden, and she also has a large selection of specialty peppers in season. Other vendors include Fisher’s and Burd’s with seasonal produce and more vendors will be added as crops become available.
After Bellefonte, there is time to wind through the mountains, taking the scenic route to the Millheim market that runs from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the American Legion Pavilion at 162 W. Main St. Stone Meadow Farm is a mainstay here, with Brian Futhey’s incomparable Leigh Belle cheese, our own local version of a Camembert, and his Swiss that is reminiscent of a young Gruyere. Futhey also sells meats, but if it is lamb you are looking for, check out Tamarack Farm for their wide assortment of frozen cuts and several varieties of lamb sausage all ready for the grill or a pot of lentils. Bill Callahan, of Cow-a Hen Farm, attends this market — it’s much closer than Boalsburg to the Callahan farm in Mifflinburg. The Millheim market will feature live cooking demonstrations one Saturday a month throughout the season. One other big draw at this market is the Penns Valley Community Learning Garden situated next to the pavilion, where Jennifer Tucker’s medicinal herb plantings as well as mature vegetable beds provide inspiration and guidance for the novice gardener.
If you don’t dawdle too long in Millheim, you can make it to the North Atherton farmers market at the Home Depot parking lot at 2615 Greentech Drive in State College, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The collaboration and cooperation of the Home Depot management to make this venue available is laudable and could set a standard in other municipalities where farmers markets struggle to find suitable space.
The partnership is clearly symbiotic, as shoppers busily go between the vendors’ tables set in a wide quadrant and the home improvement store for their weekend projects. There are 29 vendors at this market, with many options for prepared foods as well as raw ingredients. Belle Naturals, Nittany Valley Organics, Ardry Farm, Dn’D Farm, Full Circle Farm, Jade Family Farm, Tait Farm, Dancing Creek Farm, Over the Moon Farm and Clan Stewart Farm are only some of the many options. Go out and see the others, and sample breakfast or a burger from the newest food truck on the block, Street Meat, which uses locally raised Angus beef for their tasty burgers.
After all that shopping on a Saturday, pace yourself through the weekend. You have to wait until Tuesday to get to another farmers market. And remember to take your umbrella as well as your canvas bags.
Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” of several iBook cookbooks (“Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink .com and can be reached at email@example.com.