Spring is officially here and longed-for Berkshire farmers’ markets will soon be upon us. Typically open one day a week, farmers’ markets provide seasonal, locally grown produce and, depending on market size, some will also sell eggs, dairy, meats, baked goods and specialty food products, all of which are sourced from farms and artisan makers in the region.
Many farmers’ markets are set up outdoors so patrons can enjoy beautiful weather while shopping for food. Markets in the Berkshire region hold special events on opening day and throughout the season with fun activities for kids such as face painting, music and dancing. Bringing kids along is a great opportunity to slip in a little education about nutrition and get them more interested in the food they eat.
There are several reasons why shopping at a farmer’s market makes good sense. Market patrons have an opportunity to connect to the community, get to know their farmers and food producers and learn more about the ingredients being provided to them. Some vendors will provide recipes to help home cooks prepare ingredients for seasonal dishes. A well-known fact for chefs who shop the market for their restaurants: fresh food tastes better when eaten shortly after harvest – many farmers will be selling items that were picked earlier that morning. The freshness factor also provides the most vitamins and minerals for your health. There’s an even bigger impact to buying produce in season: it reduces food processing, packaging and travel and is reflected in a lower food bill. Shopping at farmers’ markets keeps farmers in business, is good for the local economy and sustains the environment – a win-win-win for all involved!
Farmers’ markets are an important public face for agriculture and a critical part of our food system. The remarkable growth in farmers’ markets is an excellent indicator of the staying power of regional foods. In 2013, more than 8,100 farmers markets were listed in the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, up from about 5,000 in 2008. Due to consumer demand for local food, there is an increase in the diversity of market offerings, and more participation from small businesses and farms. In the Berkshires, a number of new markets have developed over the last few years and have been very well received.
The newest addition to the Berkshire market mix is in downtown Pittsfield. After a successful first year, the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers’ Market is gearing up for the 2014 season. The market will kick off on Mother’s Day weekend, Saturday, May 10 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Opening Day will feature live music with singer/songwriter Billy Keane performing at 11 a.m. and Dottie’s Coffee Lounge presenting a chef demo at 11:30 a.m.
In addition to pasture-raised meats, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, cut flowers, and plants, attendees can shop for beautiful artisan wares. Aubry will join the market for the first time with hand-carved spoons, cutting boards, cheese boards, lathe-turned bowls and rolling pins. Dancing Bare Soap will showcase their organic handcrafted soaps; Diane Firtell will have her photo notecards, collages flower pots, jewelry and denim “pockets”; and, Wake Robin Botanicals will offer teas, salves, creams, elixirs, herbal baths and infused body oils.
Held in the First Street parking lot in downtown Pittsfield (overlooking the Common), the market will run every Saturday, rain or shine, through October 25. For details, visit farmersmarketpittsfield.org.
Sporting a new location this year, the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market will open for its 24th season on Saturday, May 10 at the Great Barrington Fairgrounds. Open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., rain or shine through the last weekend in October, the market often has entertainment, cooking demos and other activities. For more information, visit greatbarringtonfarmersmarket.org
In operation since 1978, the North Adams Farmers’ Market will reopen for the season on June 14. Located in St. Anthony’s Municipal Parking Lot, the market runs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. throughOctober 25.For more information, visit their Facebook page or ExploreNorthAdams.com.
Berkshire seasonal markets will also take place in Adams, Great Barrington at CHP, Lanesboro, Lee, Lenox, Otis, Sheffield, West Stockbridge and Williamstown, plus Amenia and Hillsdale, NY, and Bennington, VT.
Later in the year, Berkshire Grown will host its newly expanded sixth annual Holiday Farmers’ Markets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, November 15, December 13, January 17, and February 14 at Monument Valley Middle School in Great Barrington and on Sundays, November 16 and December 14 at Williams College Towne Field House in Williamstown. These popular events feature locally grown and produced foods during months when farmers’ markets are not open in the region. New this year are two additional markets in January and February taking place in Great Barrington. Admission is free.
Click here for information on other Berkshire farmers’ markets, farm stands, pick-your-own farms and what’s fresh now.