St. Louis Farmer’s Markets

Soulard Farmer’s Market in St. Louis, Missouri is almost as old as the city itself. Founded in 1779 the market has remained virtually unchanged except for the addition of electricity and modern plumbing. The markets went into decline in the 1950’s with the advent of the modern supermarket and the decline of the corner grocery store. Recently they have made a comeback in the St. Louis region with most of the outlying areas boasting at least one. Soulard, however is the largest, oldest and best.

Open air markets have always been popular in Europe, which boasts about 80,000 of them. Eighty-one percent of all groceries purchased in Spain go through them.

The Soulard Market consists of two large brown brick buildings with open air stalls on either side. Inside there are butcher shops where you can purchase a whole hog’s head if you are so inclined. There is also a bakery, a spice shop, and a couple of small restaurants, one of which serves the best chili dog with onions this side of the Mississippi . Down one of the aisles you can get old fashioned popcorn doused with butter right out of an old coffee pot?!

Venturing outside you find row after row of trucks backed right up to the wooden stalls, loaded with every type of fruit and vegetable imaginable, all locally grown. And, unlike in the supermarkets, you can try before you buy. Go ahead, haggle. The guy (or gal) behind the counter won’t mind. They might even cut one of the apples oranges or peaches in half for you so you can take a bite. If it’s getting close to closing time, some of the vendors will start reducing the price, taking a crayon and scratching a line through the number on the brown paper bag that doubles as a sign. You can also buy fresh milk right off of the truck from cigar chewing Bernie the milkman, some of it in glass bottles with cream still floating on the top. You can even pick up a live chicken or two if you don’t mind dealing with all the feathers. A little further on down the row you’ll encounter a Chinese couple frying up some of the best doughnuts that you’ve ever tasted. The inside of these tasty little morsels has a consistency that is somewhat custard-like and definitely delicious. On your way out be sure to pick up some freshly cut flowers from the stand on the end or check out one of the merchandise stands that sell everything from baseball caps to novelty items. One stop shopping that beats Wal-Mart any day of the week. And the people are friendly too. There is something about an open air market that encourages complete strangers to strike up a conversation!

The market is close to all of the major interstates and just a few minutes from downtown St. Louis. It’s open year round Wed-Fri 8a.m. till 5:30p.m. and 6a.m. till 530p.m. on Saturdays.SAPPINGTON FARMER’S MARKET is located on Watson Rd just outside of St. Louis not to far from Grant’s Farm where Ulysses S. (the guy on the fifty dollar bill) had his Hardscrabble cabin. The market is located in a strip mall in its own brick building unlike some of the other markets that reside under tents. One wonders why it was not also named after the famous general/president. In a four square block area around the market there is a General Grant restaurant, apartment building, car wash and dry cleaners.

The Sappington Farmer’s Market features over 1,000 varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables, 200 different kinds of cheese, certified organic meats, and ethnic foods from over 18 countries. This market probably also has the largest garden shop and selection of flowers in the area. While you are there, check out the recently added “everything is a dollar” section. Say hello to farmer Fred and ride the miniature train. You can also learn how to cook some of the delicious food that you just purchased by taking a cooking class with Tessa, the home economist in residence.

The market is open early morning to evening 7 days a week, and since it’s indoors, weather is never a problem.

If your tastes run a little more to the upscale, then trek out to CLAYTON FARMER’S MARKET. Situated just to the West of St. Louis, Clayton has been called a miniature downtown St. Louis with it’s upscale housing and tall office buildings. If you’re looking for a lawyer, you’ll probably find one here. Clayton is also home to the annual Clayton Art Fair, the largest in the area. Located on Central avenue in the heart of the city, this tent market is seasonal, open from May 21st through Sept. 24th. During that time however, this little place is bristling with activity. Aside from the usual selection of artisan breads, locally roasted coffees, fresh pasta, meats, cheeses, honey, vegetables and fruit, they have live music every weekend.

Culinary students from St. Louis University cook up fresh omelets for brunch on Sunday mornings. At the end of July there is an ice cream festival with free homemade ice cream and sorbet. In August don’t miss the Heirloom Tomato Festival and September brings cooking classes for kids, just in time for back to school.

Finally we come to the MAPLEWOOD FARMER’S MARKET at the Schlafly Bottleworks. Schlafly Beer is a local St. Louis microbrewery that rivals Sam Adams in selection, taste and uniqueness. Their main bottling plant is located in Maplewood, an up and coming suburb just south and west of the city. There is a restaurant at the brewery whose menu focuses on healthy alternatives to fast and fried food. Everything on the menu is organic. The charbroiled bison burger far exceeds anything you’ll find at a chain. On alternate Wednesdays in the summer, the bottling plant’s huge parking lot is turned into a farmer’s market. Bellews Greek Farm, Black Bear Bakery, Femme Osage Apiary, Leepy Gourmet Foods, Ozark Forest Mushrooms and Jesse Pearl’s Pound Cakes are just a few of the vendors that you will find there. There are also local artists and craftsmen displaying their wares. And if you liked that bison burger that you just had inside, you can buy the meat by the pound straight from the farm it was raised on!

Farmer’s markets are on the rise in the St. Louis area. They offer an alternative for small farmers who face overwhelming competition from the big corporations. Plus the food is healthy and a whole lot fresher. Support your local farmer’s market!

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