Some things are just better fresh, like chewing gum, gym shoes, Will Smith, and beats-with-a-z, to name a few (needlessly obscure) examples. But you know what else is better fresh? Produce.
Obvious, I know, but even Whole Foods Market, the self-appointed temple of Good Eats, has been known to shill veggies past their prime. Many of the fruits and vegetables stocked in your average grocery store have traveled hundreds of miles to get there. Like most of us after a long, cramped road trip, the tomatoes are tired, the cucumbers are tasteless, and the melons are bruised. Appetizing? Hardly.
But that’s just part of the reason farmers’ markets are enjoying a boost in popularity. Like urban beekeeping, city chickens, and rooftop gardens, there’s a certain DIY, back-to-the-basics sheen that emanates from the crates of colorful (if albeit a bit dirty) edibles. It’s hip to go green, and there are few things greener than buying straight from the source.
Plus, farmers’ markets are actually kind of fun. When I was young and broke, I spent years working the cash register at an upscale farm stand. Later in life, I did a stint at Trader Joe’s. I think my experience with selling food has given me a unique appreciation for produce—especially the less popular varieties. Can you tell the difference between an endive and a radicchio? Locate a fennel bulb in a pile of tubers? I can, and I’m weirdly proud of it.
This is all a long way of introducing my newest obsession: The Portland Farmers’ Market. When compared to similar institutions in Philly, New York, and Boston, the market in Monument Square is miles ahead in categories like freshness of product, friendliness of vendors, and variety of blossoms (seriously, there are fresh-cut flowers everywhere—Martha Stewart would most certainly approve). It’s become my weekly tradition to spend my Wednesday lunch hour walking around the square, feeling up tomatoes and examining the acorn squash. Yesterday, I brought home a bunch of kale and a bag of onions, which made their way into a braised chicken-and-wine dish. Not to brag, but it was totally great.
Though the season for farmer’s markets is nearly over, the Portland Farmers’ Market also has a winter equivalent. From December to April, you can find local farmers selling the fruits of their labor on Saturdays at the Maine Irish Heritage Center. Apparently, the Wednesday market also continues in Monument Square, but I imagine once the snow comes, most vendors head indoors.
Don’t live downtown? Not a problem. There are plenty of markets across the state, including the Deering Oaks Park Market (named one of the top 10 markets in the country by Travel & Leisure magazine). Here are a few more to get you started:
Bangor Farmers Market, located at Harlow and Franklin Streets. Open Sunday from noon to 3 p.m.
Belfast Farmers Market, located at 256 High St. Open Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., May 4 through October 26.
Rockland Farmers Market, located at Harbor Park. Open Thursdays 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. from May through October.
Kennebunk Farmers Market, located at 16 Grove St. Open Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. from May 5 to November 17.
Bath Farmers Market, located at Waterfront Park. Open Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to noon. Winter farmers’ market located in the Bath United Church on 150 Congress Ave, Saturdays 9 a.m. to noon.