Until November, fresh produce is available straight from the farmer within walking distance of downtown Ithaca five days a week, although downtowners are probably better off driving or taking a bus to the Wednesday market at East Hill Plaza. Alongside food you’ll find arts and other crafts, all grown or produced within 30 miles of the pavilion at Steamboat Landing along the Cayuga Inlet.
Check the crop calendar on the market’s webpage to see which fruits and vegetables to expect at different times of the year. The agricultural products on offer also include such items as seedlings, eggs, meat, maple syrup, wines, and hard ciders. Prepared foods range from bread and pastries to freshly cooked meals. You can find wearables such as clothing and jewelry, as well as items to decorate your home. Live music often serenades the shopper.
“The market is the place to be seen in Ithaca,” said market manager Aaron Munzer, especially the weekend markets at Steamboat Landing held in a long timber-framed pavilion. Saturday markets run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. until Oct. 31 and Sunday markets run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. until Oct. 26. The hours shift in November so that both days run 10 a.m. to 2 p.m, with Sunday markets ending Nov. 29 and Saturday markets lasting until Dec. 19. “If you haven’t been here, you haven’t really experienced Ithaca,” he said.
The weekend markets are often packed with people looking to do just that. Munzer suggested locals arrive early or near the end of the day to have an easier time getting in and shopping. People can avoid navigating the packed parking lot by walking either through town or on the newly completed Cayuga Waterfront Trail. “Life is too short to drive everywhere,” Munzer said.
The crowds thin out at the end of the season, but the number of vendors also drops. The farmers market is a cooperative of over 150 members and Munzer said that attendance is up to individual businesses. Some vendors even move around, since there are weekly lotteries to assign stalls to members without reserved stalls. Munzer thought that added to the experience. “It’s kind of nice to look around and see what’s available.
The weekday markets, or satellite markets, bring fresh foods into neighborhoods until the end of October. Like the main market, the satellite markets have tables where people can use Electronic Benefit Cards for tokens that can be exchanged for non-prepared, non-heated food.
The Thursday market, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m., used to be held at Dewitt Park, but this year it moved to Hancock Street in the parking lot of the now-closed Neighborhood Pride market. “Most of the shoppers are neighborhood people,” said Noelia Springston, who co-owns Oxbow Farm in Erin. Along with the farmers and artisans, Springston said that every week features entertainment, not just music but also performances from the likes of Nate the Great and the Lily Silly Puppet Theatre.
The Wednesday market, held at East Hill Plaza from 4 to 7 p.m., was started in 2012. “That one’s more laid back,” said Eric Benner, owner of Polestar Farm in Hector. He felt that it had grown since last year. “A lot more people come to this one,” he said, referring to the weekend market, “but the Wednesday market is becoming more of an event.”
The Tuesday market, held in Dewitt Park from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., is the earliest of the satellite markets and is well situated to cater to the downtown lunchtime crowd with prepared food. There are also downtown shoppers. Jaimi Weeks, an employee of Little Flowers in Newfield, sells flowers to many lunchtime customers, some of them regulars, who want a bouquet of flowers to bring back to the office. Fay Gougakis, a volunteer at the Little Flower booth, said, “It brings the outside closer to the city.”
As well as the market itself, look for two upcoming events at the pavilion, the Halloween Parade in October and the Rutabaga Curl on Dec. 19 that ends the summer market season. Winter markets are held in The Space @ Greenstar from Jan. 10 to Mar. 28, on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. §
For more information about local farmers markets see: ccetompkins.org/agriculture/buy-local/farmers-markets