Good harvests abound at local farmers' markets

May 19, 2010 at 4:00 am

No doubt, we St. Louisans love to cook outside. Heck, if we were facing the Blizzard of the Century, while most of us would flock to the store for toilet paper and milk, someone would surely be filling his cart with charcoal and pork steaks.

Increasingly, we love to shop for food outside, too. The year's first wave of warm weather brings a cornucopia of chances to purchase fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat and more from local farmers. What's more, in these days of increased awareness of food in general and, specifically, food safety, farmers' markets are the ideal opportunity — really, one of the few opportunities, period — to get to know the people who grow your food.

Here is a guide to some of our favorite local farmers' markets, with the caveat that vendors are subject to change not only year to year, but also week to week:

The Maplewood Farmers' Market is open every Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. in the parking lot of the Schlafly Bottleworks (7260 Southwest Avenue). The popularity of this market has exploded in recent years: Go early to nab a parking spot — and the best produce, like microgreens from Claverach Farm, eggs and lamb from Prairie Grass Farms, and all manner of goodies from Biver Farms. Best of all, you can enjoy a Schlafly beer (or two) while you shop.

Tower Grove Park (4256 Magnolia Avenue) hosts the Tower Grove Farmers' Market & Bazaar every Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Vendors set up just west of the Pool Pavilion, which itself is just west of the traffic circle at Central Cross Drive. Besides excellent produce from farms like Greenwood and Hinkebein Hills, you can find baked goods and even enjoy a freshly made crêpe. Live music and the nearby splash pool make this an ideal family activity.

This year, the folks behind the Tower Grove market are introducing the Downtown Tower Grove Farmers' Market. The market will set up at the Old Post Office Plaza (North Ninth and Locust streets) every Thursday, beginning June 3, from 4 to 7 p.m.

Not far from downtown, the North City Farmers' Market sets up shop every Saturday, beginning June 5, from 9 a.m. to noon. Located just across from beloved landmark Crown Candy Kitchen in Crown Square (St. Louis Avenue at 14th Street), the market offers produce from vendors that include local urban farms as well as live entertainment. Also on Thursdays is the Ellisville Farmers' Market, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Bluebird Park (225 Kiefer Creek Road).

For obvious reasons, Saturday is a popular day for farmers' markets. The Clayton Farmers' Market, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary, meets every Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to noon in the parking lot of the Straub's grocery store at 8282 Forsyth Boulevard. Vendors include the award-winning cheeses of Baetje Farms to locally produced chocolate, honey and more.

Saturday is also the day for the Ferguson Farmers' Market. The market meets every Saturday, beginning May 1, from 8 a.m. to noon at Victorian Plaza (20 South Florissant Road). Here you can find produce from Hahn and Cascade farms, among others, as well as baked goods from Cose Dolci as well as pizza — yes, pizza — and produce from "R" Pizza Farm in Dow, Illinois.

If you don't mind a (relatively brief) drive, Saturday is a perfect day to visit Edwardsville, Illinois, for the Land of Goshen Community Market. The market meets from 8 a.m. to noon right in the heart of downtown Edwardsville, and features produce from Biver Farms, Mills Apple Farm, Reinhardt's Berry Patch and many more, as well as baked goods, arts and crafts.

Can't make it to your favorite market? Allergic to sunlight? Indoor options for fresh, local produce do exist. Local Harvest Grocery (3184 Morganford Road) carries goods from many of the same vendors who set up shop at the Tower Grove Farmers' Market. In south county, Sappington Farmers' Market (8400 Watson Road) not only offers local food, but it's also owned by a cooperative of farmers, ranchers and others committed to sustainable agriculture. The Kirkwood Farmers' Market is open daily through Saturday, September 25 — though you'll usually find the most vendors with the best produce on Saturday mornings.

Of course, no mention of St. Louis farmers' markets would be complete without mention of the city's most iconic, Soulard Farmers' Market. Here you will find produce both local and not, meats that you love and meat that you've never had before, freshly fried pork rinds and doughnuts, pets, flowers and more. The market is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. As at every farmers' market, the best advice is to go early — and to bring plenty of reusable shopping bags.