Syracuse’s Farmers Market, located at 2100 Park Street, next to the Greyhound bus station and across the highway from the Carousel Center, isn’t easy to miss. Five long enclosures with green roofs, labeled A through E, and freestanding white tents in the sun house dozens of vendors. The Market is a yard sale, a garden sale and a green market all thrown together, and it runs year-round.More often than not, the vendors are the farmers themselves. Old sunspotted men unload their produce from the backs of their trucks while their hardened wives work the cash register. This is a family affair: children and grandchildren work as much as adults. These men and women don’t feel the need to hawk their goods or harass potential customers, which is a nice change from NYC street fairs.
The prices are shockingly low: three onions for three dollars, a 75 cent eggplant. One bread stall has a buy-one-get-one-free end-of-the-day loaf special. It’s cheaper than Wegmans and light years more affordable than Whole Foods, where food is made expensive by the packaging and shipping. Some stands advertise that they accept food stamps as payment, making a very good case for cheap, healthy calories (while also making this blogger happy as a clam.)
For such an old institution, the Farmers Market is surprisingly forward-thinking. Everything is locally grown by small farms. A preponderance of meats are free-range, grass fed, and organic. A rainbow of homemade pasta, cut into long, thin strips and short, dry squiggles, are mostly vegan. Reading material is available to educate you on the benefits of Islam and explain why it isn’t terror-based. Even progressive ideas like Fair Trade have wormed their way upstate.
The farmers and vendors sell prepared foods as well. Will you buy the coconut chocolate pecan fudge or the cinnamon chili chocolate pecans? The natural peanut butter or the canned jams and vegetables? There are samples galore: try the cheese, peanut brittle, grass-fed jerky and wine. Lots of homemade treats are sold in Ziplock bags. Must-haves are the pure maple candy, sold at Leonard’s Maple Syrup by the most adorable, authentic-looking, crusty old farmer I’ve ever seen; and the 25-cent sticks of flavored honey (lemonade! peach!), sold at the tiny honey stand.
Beyond farm-fresh produce and prepared cuisine, the adjacent flea market includes household goods and apparel. Sift through tables and cartons of shea butter, sunglasses, jewelry, toys, sheets and candles before heading off to lunch at one of the meal carts. Smells from the Pierogie Guy, Ma & Pa’s Kettle Korn and Dogs On Wheels permeate the air. There’s even Thai and Laotian food, and of course, that zenith of gustatory pleasure, fried dough.
This is Syracuse at its best, most interesting, most accepting and most progressive. The crowd is a melting pot. Women in hijabs push strollers past teens in bondage pants and baggy jeans; men in big glasses and trucker hats purchase cookies from pinch-faced Amish women, who will smile if coaxed. (The Amish pastries are very good; give one a try.) All in all, the Farmers Market is a fantastic jumping-off point for the local food movement, and for culture in Central New York.