The growing season is in full swing, but if you don’t have the space, the inclination or the green thumb needed to raise crops of good-for-you food, you can count on the local farmers and vendors at one of Columbia’s farmers markets to bring the harvest to you.
Not a veggie fan? That’s no excuse for missing out on the farmers market experience. Although the supremely tasty, fresh-from-the-farm vegetables might change your mind, you’ll find plenty more to fill your shopping bags at the farmers market — everything from meat and dairy products to desserts and delicacies to homemade soaps and handspun wool.
Let’s explore what CoMo’s farmers markets have to offer.
Boone County Farmers Market
Where & When: 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays, April through October; Columbia/Boone County Health Department parking lot, 1005 W. Worley St.
Acceptable Forms Of Payment: Cash, debit (not credit) and EBT cards. Some vendors accept checks. To use debit or EBT cards, shoppers can swipe their cards in exchange for market tokens all vendors accept.
The Boone County Farmers Market focuses chiefly on bedding plants, fruits and vegetables — the types of goods you’d envision in a traditional farmers market. Some vendors offer meat, bread and seasonal items such as honey. While you shop, you might enjoy some freshly popped kettle corn or sweet baked goods. Offerings are produced primarily in Boone or neighboring counties.
For the best selection, market President Steven Sapp recommends arriving early. “The seasons determine what kind of quantity of products we have,” he says.
North Village Arts District Farmers And Artisans Market
Where & When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays, beginning with the last Sunday of April and ending with the last Sunday of October; Wabash Station, 126 N. 10th St.
Acceptable Forms Of Payment: Cash is the best bet because all vendors accept it; only some accept debit or credit cards. The market’s informational booth can exchange EBT credit for vouchers, which the fresh-food vendors accept.
Established in 2010, this market places greater emphasis on arts and crafts than its local counterparts, so you might see pottery, photo prints and alpaca rugs not far from the bell peppers, snap peas and apples. Vendors also offer honey, jewelry, jams, soaps, lotions, bread, flowers and plants. All items must be produced within 150 miles of Columbia, but unlike other local markets, this one also allows merchants to resell agricultural goods produced within that radius.
A number of vendors serve prepared foods; sample tamales, kettle corn or waffles from Sunflower Waffle Co. as you explore the booths and take in the live music. The Cultivation Station provides demonstrations for adults, and the Sprout House offers craft- or wellness-themed activities for kids.
Columbia Farmers Market
Where & When:
November through March
Saturday market: 9 a.m. to noon inside Parkade Plaza, 601 Business Loop 70 W. Closed Saturdays after Thanksgiving and Christmas.
April through October
Saturday market: 8 a.m. to noon outside the ARC, 1701 W. Ash St.
May through October
Weekday markets: 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday outside the ARC, 1701 W. Ash St; 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday outside Forum Christian Church, 3900 Forum Blvd.
Acceptable Forms Of Payment: Debit, credit, cash, checks, EBT. Although some vendors can’t accept certain forms of payment, you can stop by the market’s Oasis tent to purchase tokens all vendors accept. The market charges a $2 transactional fee for such exchanges. You can also use cash at any tent.
The largest in town, the Columbia Farmers Market usually offers home-canned goods, pies, bread, soap and ice cream in addition to produce, goat cheese, eggs, meat and plants. Weekday markets are smaller and simpler, but on Saturdays, you can listen to live music and indulge in a breakfast burrito as you shop. All goods are produced within 50 miles of Columbia, and CFM inspects each vendor.
Come early if you’re hoping to snag popular seasonal produce. In peak season, Manager Corrina Smith says as many as 70 people might be lined up at 7:45 a.m. to buy peaches. Usually, though, you won’t have to wait in lines.
CFM plans to launch a children’s club with activities such as monthly cooking demonstrations, which are already underway at Saturday markets. It also works with sister organization Sustainable Farms and Communities to match government nutrition benefits redeemed at the farmers market. Families with young children can receive up to $25 worth of additional fresh, locally produced food items each week.
How To Make The Most Of The Markets
At Columbia’s farmers markets you can select flowers for your garden, steaks for the grill and maybe a pint of honey ice cream along with fresh, seasonal produce such as heirloom tomatoes and cherries. Buying locally produced goods not only reduces your carbon footprint and supports fellow community members, it also allows you to stock your kitchen with the same delicious ingredients used by some of Columbia’s finest restaurants. This primer will help you navigate the marketplaces.
Bring a reusable bag. Although many vendors have plastic bags you can use, it’s best if you bring your own cloth bag or backpack. In addition to reducing waste, reusable bags are less likely to rip under the weight of your purchases.
Ask the farmers questions. Not sure how to prepare those sunflower shoots? The expert is standing right in front of you. This is your chance to learn how your food was grown and how to prepare products you don’t often eat. Columbia Farmers Market Manager Corrina Smith says farmers are usually happy to discuss their products and practices with shoppers.
If it’s certified organic, you’ll know. Organic certification is a costly process that requires approval through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Therefore, vendors whose products are certified organic make sure that information is clear, usually by posting signs. Some vendors who aren’t certified do follow organic practices, however, so if organic food is important to you, ask the farmer about it.
It’s OK to come hungry. Conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t shop for groceries on an empty stomach, but in this case, you might want to come with an appetite. Some vendors at the weekend markets offer prepared foods shoppers can snack on while they browse.
Prepare your vehicle. If you’re planning to buy lots of plants, clear some space in your trunk and lay down a piece of cardboard or an old blanket to protect your vehicle from dirt.