Mark(et) on Your Calendar
How To Make the Most of Lancaster’s Farmers Markets
When you travel to new places, you come to realize that we are fortunate to live in Lancaster County, where we have access to an abundance of fresh, local food at our fingertips. My husband and I recently returned from our ten-year anniversary trip to St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The island is lush, the water is turquoise, and the beach is covered with mahoe trees (referred to as ‘sea grape’ trees by the islanders) under which you can enjoy your $10.00 bunch of green grapes. Due to the natural terrain and because the soil was so depleted during the era of the sugar mill plantations, most of the food is imported. There is quite literally one woman cultivating an organic gardening business, and everything else that you consume on the island is imported from somewhere else.
The first thing I did when we came home was gather up my tote bags and head to Central Market to get my fix of affordable, fresh food. Because I grew up in Lancaster and am now raising my own family here, I have had 35+ years to figure out where to buy my favorite items, where to park and who to stalk to find hidden gems.
To make a lovely summer morning of Central Market, find parking on Mulberry near the intersection with Orange Street; parking is free here for up to two hours, which is a nice treat in downtown Lancaster. As you walk down Orange Street, stop in for an Indian omelet or some Swedish pancakes at my favorite breakfast spot, On Orange. After enjoying a delicious breakfast, head to market with a full belly—the short walk will feel good at this point! My first stop is Groff’s Vegetables, which I discovered through some subtle stalking of a local chef. See, I am a little bit sneaky but mostly just a really good people watcher, so when I see a chef I recognize from a restaurant that I frequent, I like to see where they shop. Well, I have seen them at this stand buying the crisp or buttery, depending on your preference, lettuce. This is my go-to place for greens, but they are closed on Saturdays, so you need to go on Tuesday or Friday to enjoy Groff’s offerings.
After Groff’s, I like to buy my tomatoes from Mary at Brogue Hydroponics. She has a variety of produce and can also provide some very interesting veggie talk if you are like me and enjoy those discussions. For instance, did you know that the best place for many of your veggies is not in the fridge, but on the counter? I didn’t until Mary informed me. Ask her about it when you stop by!
The next destination is always Barr’s Farms stand because aside from having an incredible variety of products, I have discovered through much trial and error that their avocados are the most delicious at market. They are firm when you buy them, and then after a few days on the counter, they are just the perfect, creamy goodness every time. No bruised, disappointing avocados to be found at Barr’s.
Produce shopping usually takes up most of the space in my market tote, but I refuse to leave market without a coffee and a treat. Coffee is tasty from either of the two main stands, or you can venture to the lesser known coffee offering at the Greek stand for a more European taste (beware of the baklava that you will certainly need to purchase when you buy your coffee because you will eat it all before you leave market). If you want to walk down King street on your way back to the car, you will also pass a new tiny coffee window called Aura Espresso Room that offers a very tasty lavender latte, which I enjoy iced. To go with my coffee, I head to Wendy Jo’s where I feel like I am being mindful when I buy her healthy cookie made without refined sugar or flour.
While Central Market is the most famous, Lancaster City also offers East Side Market on Sunday mornings in Musser Park. The pace is slower than Central Market, and you will see people buying bagels from Harvest Moon Bagel Co., spreading out a picnic blanket and taking the afternoon to relax in the park. I like to go when I know there will be live music for my children to dance to (check Facebook for the schedule) while I eat my everything bagel with jalapeno cream cheese. After exhausting themselves with dancing, my kids like to head to Tropipop for a homemade popsicle; the popsicles are made with fruit and occasionally sweetened with honey or homemade simple syrup when needed. My boys like the strawberry pear and the watermelon mint the best.
On Tuesdays, Root’s Country Market and Auction in Manheim is another essential Lancaster County market to visit. If you buy organic produce, Absolute Organics sells fruits outside the market and vegetables inside. Though it is handy to have cash when shopping at all farmer’s markets, this stand does accept credit cards, which is an important thing to remember!
If you’re an early riser, Root’s Market is the place to go. One of my friends sells antiques there, and she encourages you to come early and haggle. I am always reluctant to ask for a discount, but she says it is expected. You also shouldn’t leave without a slice of Norma’s pizza. In 2016, Norma Knepp won the USA Caputo Cup for New York Style Pizza. I am a bit of a self-proclaimed pizza aficionado myself, and I must say that her pizza is truly some of the best that I have had. The sauce is a bit salty and the crust is equal bits chewy and crunchy; I simply cannot accurately describe the deliciousness of the pizza, so go try it yourself and thank me later.
To round out your market-going experience, head over to Lititz Farmers Market on Thursday evenings. It may be on the smaller side, but still offers a little bit of everything. When I visited the highlight of my trip was visiting Bretta’s Breads, a bakery selling classics like large, chocolate studded cookies to more unique baked goods like a plum polenta. I selected an apricot scone with orange zest and was delighted to find that it tasted like a mix between a scone and a buttery croissant. If you find yourself in Lititz on a Thursday evening, make sure you swing by with an appetite so that you can have dinner from the Upohar food truck, grab some local produce and dessert from Bretta’s Breads.
As our days feel longer and we enjoy these sundrenched hours, be sure to experience all of Lancaster’s farmers markets with a keen eye for local chef stalking, an empty stomach for treat consuming, and a big heart for appreciating this beautiful county.