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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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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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