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15 of America's Most Incredible Farmers' Markets

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As the demand for fresh, local foods has grown, America’s farmers' markets have evolved from hay bales and apple barrels to full-blown culinary experiences. Here are some of the top destinations from across the country.

1. FERRY PLAZA FARMERS MARKET

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As if the picturesque location overlooking the San Francisco Bay weren’t enough, Ferry Plaza offers some of the boldest, freshest local products in the country, including a who’s who of brands that have gone on to wider fame, like Blue Bottle Coffee and Cowgirl Creamery. The market operates three days a week and sports a different theme each day. Tuesdays revolve around organic produce, while Thursdays focus on artisanal street fare. The sprawling Saturday market features a little bit of everything, and typically draws upwards of 25,000 visitors.

2. GREEN CITY MARKET

Chicago’s largest farmers' market is notable for its rigorous vetting process, which requires all producers be certified by a third-party organization proving their “green” credentials. Those that make the cut will delight casual shoppers and foodies alike with everything from organic lettuces and microgreens to artisan grilled cheese, hot sauce and smoked meats. In July, more than 100 local restaurants and breweries will descend on the market to offer tasting menus. Tickets for the special event are pricey ($125), but for true Windy City food fans, that may well be a bargain.

3. FARMERS' AND CRAFTS MARKET OF LAS CRUCES

In addition to the loads of fresh produce, this New Mexico market is famous for its wide array of Southwest-inspired arts and crafts. You’ll find turquoise necklaces, woven baskets, ceramics, desert-landscape watercolors, and a collection of Native American artwork. Grab a cup of pour-over coffee and enjoy the live music while you stroll around. If you’re feeling bold, sample some of the local hot peppers on display.

4. CRESCENT CITY FARMERS MARKET

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This four-day-a-week farmers market features all the local flavors that make New Orleans a top culinary destination. Louisiana peaches, pralines, sweet potatoes, and heirloom tomatoes are always in demand, along with quirky favorites like hot pepper jelly by Bonnecaze Farms, and breads from Challah At Me! Bread Company. And of course, there’s plenty of seafood, from Gulf shrimp to softshell crabs and crayfish. Stop by the Des Allemands Outlaw Katfish booth for some alligator and turtle meat.

5. DANE COUNTY FARMERS MARKET

This Madison, Wisconsin mainstay bills itself as the largest producers-only market in the country, which means everything is guaranteed to be sold by the folks who grew, raised, and crafted each product. Cheese lovers will rejoice at the selection of cheddars, goudas, chevres, and gorgonzolas, as well as Wisconsin specialties like Tilston Point blu cheese and cheese curds courtesy of Hook’s Cheese. Flowers are another specialty, from houseplants to perennials, as well as a garden’s variety of fresh produce. With 300 vendors every week, you’re sure to find something that strikes your fancy.

6. PORTLAND FARMERS MARKET AT PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY

In a city known for fussy foodies, this market upholds a high standard for quality and freshness. Come hungry and pick up a breakfast burrito from Enchanted Sun or a plate of biscuits and gravy from Pine State Biscuits, then get busy perusing the stalls. You’ll find a bounty of seasonal produce and humanely raised meats, along with pantry items like raw honey, hazelnuts, farm-fresh milk, and some of the best coffee Portland has to offer. The market runs every Saturday, and at various other locations throughout the city the rest of the week.

7. WOODMONT FARMERS MARKET

Although it only operates two months out of the year (June 29 to August 31 this year) and offers a smaller selection compared to other noteworthy markets, this one’s hard to beat on freshness and local values. Everything hails from tiny Connecticut, making the trip from farm (or ocean, or warehouse) to market a short one. Produce usually comes in straight from the field, while seafood arrives directly from trawlers in nearby Stonington. The curated selection also includes grass fed meats, personal care products, and even locally made treats for dogs and cats.

8. NASHVILLE FARMERS' MARKET

Covering 16 acres in the heart of the Music City, this indoor-outdoor market runs seven days a week and offers a little bit of everything. The outdoor farm sheds feature seasonal produce, meats, and baked goods, as well as Southern-fried specialties like Papa’s Old-Fashioned Fried Pies and Professor Bailey’s Spicy Pimento Cheese. The indoor Market House, meanwhile, is the place to go for a meal or a snack, with food stands like Bella Nashville pizzeria and Music City Crepes lining the space. There’s also a weekly flea market and an educational garden for kids.

9. UNION SQUARE GREENMARKET

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A green oasis in the middle of New York City, this bustling market—the flagship of GrowNYC’s Greenmarket system—showcases a constantly rotating selection of produce, meat, baked goods, beer, and wine. Education and outreach are also a major focus, with cooking classes and chef demonstrations taking place each week, along with donations to local food pantries. With more than 60,000 visitors each week, it can get crowded, but if you download the market’s app, you can cruise through like a pro.

10. LANCASTER CENTRAL MARKET

Located in the heart of Amish country, Lancaster Central Market in Lancaster, Pennsylvania has been in business since 1757, making it the oldest continuously run farmers' market in the country. Tradition runs deep here: Some stands have operated for generations, and quirky regional favorites like scrapple (pork scraps and cornmeal) and chowchow (preserves made with spicy mustard and pickled vegetables) have stood the test of time. Yet the market is decidedly modern, too, with its renovated indoor space and embrace of international cuisine, from Thai to Greek and Middle Eastern. It’s a blend of old-world and new that you won’t find at most markets.

11. SANTA MONICA FARMERS' MARKET

Los Angeles chefs have been frequenting this market for years. That’s due to the freshness and variety of the produce, including some of the country’s best citrus fruit as well as exotic choices like plumelos, pluots, guava, and papaya. It could also have something to do with the market’s stringent standards for vendors, which includes audits at the market as well as at the farm or production facility. SMFM runs every Saturday and Sunday, and also has a lively Wednesday market that spotlights a local restaurant each week.

12. ST. LOUIS METROMARKET

You won’t find this farmers market in the same location week in and week out. One of several nationwide efforts to deliver farm-fresh produce to underserved communities, the St. Louis MetroMarket operates out of a refitted city bus, where visitors can find bins of lettuce, squash, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, and apples. Started by a St. Louis University med student, the market promotes its selection by offering discounts and special recipes like sweet potato chili.

13. UNIVERSITY DISTRICT FARMERS MARKET

Pike Place Market may be the most widely known Seattle market, but University District is the city’s oldest and largest, and it's an absolute hit with locals. Every Saturday you’ll find dozens of produce, meat, and seafood vendors hailing from the Puget Sound region. There are also plenty of specialty purveyors, like locally made Greek yogurt from Ellenos and CommuniTea Kombucha. Come early and work in a stroll around the University of Washington campus.

14. CHARLESTON FARMERS MARKET

Open every Saturday from April through November in the heart of Charleston’s historic district, this southern favorite is equal parts produce stand, flea market, and culinary carnival. Fresh berries and peaches are a specialty, and crafty visitors will enjoy all the jewelry, pottery and handmade furniture on display. The real draw, though, is the delicious (and cleverly named) food stands, including barbecue from Right on Que, locally made popsicles from King of Pops, and gyros courtesy of Alexandra the Greek. Stands also offer an ample selection of Lowcountry classics like shrimp and grits and boiled peanuts.

15. DOWNTOWN FARMERS' MARKET

Beginning every May and running through October, Des Moines's main outdoor market shows off the bounty of Iowa farm country. More than 300 vendors representing 58 counties are on display, offering everything from fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs to baked goods, meats, and even seafood. Interested to know what Iowa wine tastes like? You can find out. Street parking is free on market Saturdays, but with more than 20,000 visitors slated to show, you might consider biking it and using the bike valet at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Court Street.

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Food
The History Behind Why We Eat 10 Dishes at Thanksgiving
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Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. TURKEY

A roasted turkey on a platter.
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Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as…served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. STUFFING

Pan of breaded stuffing.
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Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. CRANBERRIES

Dish of cranberry sauce.
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Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. MASHED POTATOES

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
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Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting President to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. GRAVY

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
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Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, historian Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to created a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. CORN

Plate of corn.
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Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. SWEET POTATOES

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
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In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE

Plate of green bean casserole.
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Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you love was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. PUMPKIN PIE

Slice of pumpkin pie.
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Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. WINE

Two glasses of wine.
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Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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