One of the nice things about being in Ithaca this summer is that it means being back in a town with a great farmers market culture—not to mention one that is walkable, bikeable, and has good coffee and public transit. I’ve enjoyed riding my bike again, and the place I take it most often is the weekend farmers market at Steamboat Landing.
The Ithaca Farmers Market is nowhere near as large as the Saturday market on the Capitol Square in Madison, but this makes it a lot more manageable. It’s in a pavilion made expressly for the purpose of hosting market stalls, located right on the shore of Cayuga Lake. The setting is lovely, and the fact that it’s covered means that rainy days aren’t such a deterrent.
The main difference between the Ithaca and Dane County farmers markets, apart from their size, is that the Ithaca Market has a much greater emphasis on prepared foods and local crafts, alongside produce, meat, and other unprocessed farm products. In addition to baked goods and coffee—a must at any weekend market—there is a variety of food stalls, serving everything from breakfast burritos to Cambodian food. There are also potters, jewelers, textile artists, clothing designers, woodworkers, leatherworkers, and other crafty folk plying their wares. In this sense, it feels to me like a mix between the Dane County Farmers Market and Art Fair on the Square, in a smaller space and with more freedom of movement than you generally get if you go late enough to get locked into the endless counterclockwise shuffle with the latte-and-stroller crowd on the Capitol Square.
There are notable differences in the produce for sale, too. There is far less cheese, something I always miss being away from Wisconsin, but which is surprising to me, since New York is quite a dairy state as well. There is a marked absence of hot spicy cheese bread hawked loudly, and other fattening baked goods, like whoopie pies or chocolate bismarcks. On the plus side, you can get things like wine and hard cider, which I have never seen at the Dane County market.
I like the Ithaca Farmers Market’s size, and I love the fact that you can grab a substantial meal there if you so choose. I like that they have several incarnations: the Saturday and Sunday markets at Steamboat Landing, and two smaller weekday markets on Tuesdays and Thursdays at DeWitt Park downtown, just a block or so from where I’m staying. I definitely miss the cheese. But my main complaint is that the weekend market doesn’t open early enough. 9 a.m.? It just seems way too late to me. I’m used to getting up, going to get my provisions, and then coming back to have a leisurely breakfast with the newspaper. It’s hard to do this when you have to wait around until midmorning. Plus, it’s summertime: it gets hot by 9 a.m., especially last weekend, when the temperatures here were topping 100 degrees. Having to wait around to just hop on the bike and get the week’s veggies is not what I’ve grown used to.
Maybe in Madison I just got too accustomed to a market that gets totally mobbed with slow-walking browsers, oohers and aahers, and out-of-towners by 9 a.m., and developed an earlier-the-better instinct; but I really don’t know who would want to be wilting in 90-degree weather while trying to purchase perishables. I have not yet made the trip to Steamboat Landing in the afternoon to see what the scene is like, though the fact that I could get lunch there makes it potentially more attractive. I have a sneaking suspicion that it gets slow and crowded then, though, too.
Time complaints aside, I’ve been pleased with the spoils: blueberries, kale of many varieties, lettuce, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, green beans, eggs, bacon, challah bread, maple syrup, cucumbers, croissants… All delicious. This morning’s breakfast was, apart from the milk, coffee, vanilla extract, and cinnamon, an entirely farmers-market-sourced affair: challah bread french toast, maple syrup, pasture-raised bacon, blueberries on the side. Very delicious.