The cars are sometimes backed up all the way down Route 13 to Ithaca High School. The parking lot looks as if trench warfare had broken out, and when it rains, the dirt road transforms into a muddy field that even the most qualified all-wheel drive vehicles struggle to handle. However, awaiting the bravest drivers at the end of the long terrain is something truly magical. Beyond the rows of cars along the tree-line, pedestrians walking and crater-sized pot holes is the Ithaca Farmers Market. Open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. between the months of April and October, and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with limited hours in November and December, this market offers fresh produce and meals, deriving ingredients from all of the Ithaca seasons. Perhaps the single best dining destination in Tompkins County, this market offers a cultural immersion into the best that local produce and dairy farms have to offer, supplemented by niche restaurants and elegant craft booths.
The worst aspect of the Ithaca Farmers Market comes at the beginning of your journey. Parking, especially during the hours of 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, can be an absolute nightmare. Cars stack behind each other incredibly easily — it can be a disheartening way to start your market experience. To avoid potential road rage, I recommend that you park at the Aldi, located on 3rd Street. This spot allows for you to bypass the large queue of locals in their 2009 Subaru Foresters who claim they know there are open spots ahead. If it’s a nice day, you could even park at Stewart Park and enjoy the picturesque walk along the Waterfront Trail, taking you directly to the back side of the market. As a bonus, you can burn some calories before devouring one too many breakfast burritos or crêpes.
Once you finally approach the Ithaca Farmers Market, the large pack of patrons and wide selection of stores can be intimidating, making new visitors feel anxious despite the glorious market’s awe-inspiring presence. With three endpoints to the market, I suggest that first-time visitors start on one end and go down the length of the market before doubling back and walking down the top spoke, toward the lakefront.
Although the Farmers Market’s website raves about the plethora of shops, restaurants and vendors, it truly does not do justice to the spectacle of the market. The open-air high ceilings and the hustle and bustle that is rarely seen outside of a New York City flea market is one of a kind for Ithaca.
As I walked in on a Saturday afternoon, I was impressed by the number of people there on a dreary, unseasonably cold late April day. I walked in through the main entrance, past a booth selling fresh carrots and produce as well as a stand with flowers and plants. I took a left, admiring all of my surroundings as I headed toward the first end of the market. While it appeared that Ithaca locals comprised the majority of the patrons at the market, I was pleased to see that a few students made the seven minute trek from campus.
While I ambled through the marketplace, a few booths stood out from the rest in terms of their popularity and especially enticing offerings. Solaz, a Mexican food stand with a large painted truck, accumulated a significant line. Their breakfast burrito was their most popular option, with seemingly the majority of patrons interested in it. Another stand that caught my eye was Macro Mamas, a local, seasonally-conscious catering company that served a variety of baked goods, noodles and soups. I yearned for something sweet, so Macro Mamas tempted me, but as I continued walking I was ecstatic to have arrived at Veronika’s Pastries, a shop with the longest line of them all. This booth serves a wide array of crêpes, with flavors ranging from scrambled egg crêpes, grilled chicken crêpes and the classic breakfast crêpes with Nutella and fruit. The catch for me was that this spot offered gluten-free crepes. While I may have missed something, the only other booth offering gluten-free baked goods was the Bluebird Bakery.
I ordered my gluten-free breakfast crepe from Veronika’s, conveniently paid with Venmo and took my meal outside through the back. A burst of wind immediately caught my napkins, blowing them into the path of a small dog — a small price to pay for the sheer beauty of the Cayuga Inlet. I sat down at a lakeside table and took the partly cloudy, 55 degree April day in. Although it wasn’t the best possible Farmers Market weather, there was a scent of hope in the air; a feeling of the beginning of something great. The fresh tomatoes, asparagus and carrots that wafted through the open air encouraged me to return in future seasons to see what the Farmers Market could offer. It’s truly never the same, and everytime you return, there’s a new meal, grocery or craft calling your name.
It’s truly indescribable what the Farmers Market brings to the Ithaca community. No matter how picky an eater or how pessimistic you may be from your years at Cornell, there’s something for you at the Farmers Market. Don’t be discouraged by the stagnant line of cars or the muddy lot, the Farmers Market is a cultural experience that must make its way into your Saturday morning routine.
Jimmy Cawley is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. He currently serves as the dining editor for the 141st board. He can be reached at [email protected].