Going grocery shopping isn’t exactly the most exhilarating thing I can think of, but bring me to the farmers market, and I’ll browse for hours and spend like I’m the Barefoot Contessa on Friday morning before Jeffrey comes home.
In the Nora Ephron–directed version of my life, there are farmers markets everywhere, and I always have oodles of time to browse through the farm-fresh produce and to expertly squeeze every piece of fruit that catches my eye, no matter what time of day it is or what my work schedule looks like. In fact, nothing makes me want to call in sick more than getting off the train at 14th Street and walking through the Union Square Greenmarket (open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, year round).
As it turns out, if you are always on the hunt for a good farmers market like me, you don’t need to live in East Hampton or on the set of When Harry Met Sally—you just need to look at the geographical data. According to a recent study by Empire Today, the most farmers markets in the U.S. aren’t in New York, the farm-friendly Pacific Northwest, or even sunny California, but rather spread across a few unexpected cities that have been quietly leading the open-air market revolution.
Empire Today’s research looked at 100 cities, considering factors like the number of farmers markets per 100,000 people, the number of farmers markets that accept credit cards per that same population, the average cost of produce, and other factors that make it actually pleasant to shop outside, like the average precipitation level beginning in April and the average percentage chance of sunshine in April.
Other important considerations included the city’s walk score, aka how easy it is to stroll around the city with a canvas bag or two and return home with a farm-fresh bounty, and the percentage of land made up of parkland. Each factor was weighted, with the number of markets per 100,000 people being given the highest consideration.
Based on all these factors, here are the five best cities for people who love farmers markets:
Washington, D.C. scored the highest overall at 31.6 points out of 50, with high marks in terms of the number of markets (just over 8 farmers markets per 100,000 people), the number that accept credit cards (just under 7 markets per 100,000), and a 62 percent chance of sunshine in April, as well as a very high walk score of 77 out of 100 points. However, even though D.C. has a relatively high number of markets, it did have the highest average produce cost at $2.74 per produce—which means that the pleasure of being able to buy directly from farmers, in D.C. at least, isn’t cheap.
In a close second was Madison, Wisconsin (31.5 points), where there are at least 6 (close to 7) markets per 100,000 people, most of which accept credit cards, and where the average produce cost is a more affordable $1.06 per piece.
In third place was El Paso, Texas (31.3), where, although there are just 1.76 farmers markets per the considered population size, and most don’t accept credit cards, the high likelihood of sunshine in April (89 percent) and the low cost of produce (92 cents) make it a good city to eschew regular grocery shopping.
Tucson, Arizona, scored fourth on Empire Today’s rankings despite having just 3.23 percent of land as parkland. This is perhaps because beginning in April, there was a 90 percent chance of sunshine, given that "weather is extremely important to the farmers market experience," Empire Today notes, "and rain can lead to low turnout and even cancellations."
In fifth place was Richmond, Virginia (30.8), not far from D.C., where there are just under 6 farmers markets available to every 100,000 residents, and most accept credit cards.
As for the rest of America, of the top 50 cities, 16 of the best farmers market cities are in California, including San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, and Fresno, as well as a few top contenders in Arizona—Gilbert, Scottsdale, and Chandler.
Conversely, cities that scored low on this list tended to have high amounts of rain in April, leading to less engagement with these outdoor markets. Despite a high walk score (89), New York scored quite low out of 100 cities because of factors like high produce cost ($2.30 per item) and less than one farmers market per 100,000 people—though in terms of raw data, the highest total number of farmers markets (66).
The worst-performing city surveyed was Nashville, Tennessee, due to its low walk score (28) and the fact that less than half of its farmers markets accept credit cards.