An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Jul 16, 2014
11:32 AMThe Connecticut Table
Prime Season for Pure Local Food at Farmers Markets Across Connecticut
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The Farmers’ Market at Fairfield Hills
June–October, Tuesdays 2–6 p.m.
On a mission to “provide the best locally grown and produced veggies, preserves and farm-raised products that Connecticut has to offer,” this late-afternoon soirée of organic goods is a wonderful reprieve from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Sheltered by mammoth oak trees that line the campus of Fairfield Hills (once a mental-health hospital), this market is in its 11th year of operation. It’s just steps away from the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard barn, home to one of the oldest cavalry units in continuous service in the United States.
One will find more than apples and carrots for well-deserving equine here; there’s a wealth of healthy fare to fill empty pantries. Among the brussels sprouts, sweet corn, watermelons and turnips, you’ll also find pickles, handmade soaps, maple syrup, fresh-cut flowers and baked goods. Don’t miss Waldingfield Farm’s heirloom tomato Farmer’s Bloody Mary mix and black Spanish radishes. And no one can leave this festival of fresh food without a taste of its famous lemonade and a bagful of Daffodil Hill Growers’ “love apple” tomatoes—including beefsteak, Cherokee purple, Lemon Boy and green-shouldered heirloom varieties.
Billings Forge Farmers’ Market
Year-round, Thursdays 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
In the heart of Hartford, a market bustles with shoppers, bringing garden goods to the city streets of the Frog Hollow neighborhood.
Set up in the historic courtyard at Billings Forge—a tool factory a century ago, since converted into apartments, cafés and performance space—a radiant array of towering sunflowers seemingly watch over this weekly souk from the community garden. Home to 47 garden beds, the fertile soil there produces in excess of 500 pounds of produce yearly, although it’s not all sold in the market.
But it’s not just fruits and veggies that attract customers to this greenway enclave, it’s items like creamy, goat-milk soap from Mountain Spring Farm and fresh fennel raisin bread from Hartford Baking Co. A stop at Chet’s Italian Ice provides a welcome respite from the summer heat. Each batch is made with local, organic, in-season products, in ever-changing flavors like mango, lemon basil, orange and coconut ginger.
Lyme Farmers’ Market
June–October, Saturdays 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Putting the farm in farmers’ market, this weekly market takes place right on the grounds of rustic Ashlawn Farm, offering “good stuff for good people.” Situated on 100 acres of lush green pastures, bound by miles of granite rock walls, the property was purchased by Ray Harding over a century ago and once was a thriving dairy farm. No longer a working farm, the spread still features the six original red barns, a 15-room farmhouse and exudes the earnest idea of a life spent working the earth.
Today, it’s still run by the Harding family, with owner Chip Dahlke (Harding’s grandson) at the helm. In addition to operating a robust coffee business and café as well as what Dahlke calls “the grandest farmers’ market in the Southeast [of Connecticut],” Ray Harding’s vision of farm life lives on.
The pastoral landscape lends itself perfectly to a traditional New England farmers’ market, contributing to its 2011 ranking as the 4th Best Small Farmers’ Market in the Nation by Farmland Trust. It’s no wonder patrons flock here to fill their arms with crusty breads and crisp veggies, aged cheeses and ripe fruit freshly plucked from the vine.
Many prefer to devour purchases on the spot, laying claim to carefully chosen tufts of grass and treating themselves to one of Dahlke’s 27 varieties of Ashlawn Farm Coffees. Others chow down on a Farm to Hearth brick-fired, handmade pizza with fresh kale, basil, roasted purple beets, onions, peppers and whole-milk mozzarella.
CitySeed Farmers’ Market
Year-round, Summer Saturdays 9 a.m.–1 p.m.
Winter Saturdays 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
New Haven residents have so many amazing things right at their fingertips—museums, great restaurants, award-winning pizza, Yale University and more. The founders of CitySeed wanted to add the ability to buy locally grown produce and other goods to that list, so the year-round Wooster Square Farmers’ Market was born. Its mission: “To engage the community in growing an equitable, local food system that promotes economic development and sustainable agriculture.” Today CitySeed runs four additional markets in the city—in Fair Haven, downtown, Edgewood Park and The Hill.
Making fresh edibles available to all denizens of New Haven, this market was the first in the state to accept SNAP/EBT cards (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). For that and its nutrition-education programs, CitySeed won national recognition from the USDA as a “Golden Grocer Hunger Champion” in the farmers’ market category.
For three hours each week, the colorful urban emporium acts as a pop-up supermarket of sorts, offering breads, maple syrup and cookies of the most unusual sort, as well as veggies, eggs, grass-fed beef, Connecticut-made cheeses and organic dog treats.
“The foods are fresh, and we are supporting local farmers,” says regular Phil Tombaugh, who frequents the market with his four children. “But it’s really about what we are eating and giving to our kids.”
Dudley Farm Farmers’ Market
June–October, Saturdays 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Here’s a market with an idyllic setting steeped in history. Nestled on 10 acres of prime farmland in North Guilford, Dudley Farm was owned by the same family for over 300 years until 1991, when David Dudley, the last of the family line, willed it to the Guilford Fire Department. It now operates as a nonprofit.
A working farm, it also functions as a museum with the original farmhouse, barn, outbuildings and period garden. Educational demonstrations like that of blacksmith Al Kostuk, with his portable double bellows, are regular events; you might also see soap making, sheep shearing or relish making.
Dudley Farm showcases the country side of Guilford, and is manned by locals such as Cathy Provencher, who happily provides loyal customers with her sought-after sunflower, broccoli, radishes, mung beans and pea sprouts. Other vendors offer every other veggie you can think of, as well as grass-fed beef, bakery products, farm-fresh eggs and all kinds of crafts.
Stonington Farmers’ Market
May–October, Saturdays 9 a.m.–12 p.m.
Saltwater laps against the hulls of docked boats as this waterfront haven brings farmers, fishermen and customers together, transforming a simple parking lot into a fresh-food mecca. Staying true to Stonington’s storied history, this market overlooking Quiambaug Cove offers abundant seafood—scallops, flounder, cod, clams and swordfish—literally right off boats such as the Jenna Lynn.
Market stalwarts Belinda and Ed Learned from Stony Ledge Farm supply the market with fresh beef, roasts, ribs, pork chops, sausage, bacon, kielbasa and broiler chickens. “Our cows are grazed on the pastures you pass by every day,” says Learned. “Knowing where your food comes from and what it’s been eating is a luxury of shopping at farmers’ markets.”
Echoing that sentiment, Robert Burns of Aiki Farm, who brings his hydroponically grown organic shoots and sprouts, adds, “Farmers’ markets get consumers in direct contact with the highest quality nutritional foods.”
Litchfield Hills Farm-Fresh Market
Year-round, Saturdays 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
A must-stop for foodies, this market, located in the Litchfield Hills, is a delight for those who enjoy the art of foraging for novel selections such as maple syrup milk shakes, patriotic red, white and blue potatoes and “duckos” for dinner.
Capturing the essence of a truly food-driven happening, this bazaar sets up in the heart of the Litchfield Historic District. Professional chefs frequently demonstrate their craft here, offering a riot of interesting aromas, colors and tastes. Jonathan Gyles from the Litchfield Inn, for one, gains inspiration from the fresh fare to create savory samples, including curry, salmon, goat cheese and mousse tartlets.
“We have great food available in our own communities. I personally go into the fields with farmers and pick the food I’ll use at the restaurant,” says Gyles. “Patrons are more excited when the food is from local farms.”
For the at-home chef, the stall of MarWin Farm piques interest. The board lists Pulling My Leg, Skinny Fat and duck sausage. Owner Joanne Dahill explains: “Pulling My Leg is fully cooked Peking duck leg meat, great for making everything, but especially good in duck tacos or ‘duckos.’” Skinny Fat is rendered duck fat, packed with flavor and great to cook with, while duck sausage is made with leg and thigh meat, roasted garlic, spinach and feta cheese. Dahill also offers Coturnix quail, partridge, chicken and turkey.
You can’t get foods like this in the aisles of your grocery store!