Virginia Farmers' Markets: 101
The Complete Guide to Peak Season Shopping
Image Credit: Sven Scheuermeier
Eating fresh and local is so much easier in the summer months. Virginia farmers work hard all summer long to provide fresh, tasty fruits and vegetables for their customers. Thanks to Virginia's location in the southeast, food aficionados can enjoy delicious foods at their prime for months at a time.
In fact, from May to September, the variety offered at local farmers' markets is astounding. However, to get the best quality produce and to be able to plan your meals efficiently, you need to know what to expect when you're headed to the market. Here's a general guideline of what comes in season when in Virginia and a few simple tricks keep those fruits and veggies edible longer.
Asparagus is best when it is fresh, and for those who love this green veggie, that means early spring, when the tips are tender. The main asparagus crop will come in during the month of May, but there may be some available in early June as well. Try the famous Snead's Farm's asparagus in Fredericksburg. (Protip: items like asparagus, herbs and scallions like extra attention to stay perky. Store them upright in a jar in the refrigerator with their ends submerged in a little water and a loosely draped plastic bag over the tops!)
Spinach and Salad Greens
Be on the lookout for fresh greens in May and early June, but by summertime, the leaves of lettuce and spinach wilt under the sun. Thankfully, though, another crop of these greens can be expected in fall when the temps drop once again.
Strawberries are the earliest spring berry offered in Virginia, available as early as April and lasting through the month of June. If you’re looking for something berry sweet, look no further than Agriberry Farm. They currently have strawberries at the market, but these will soon be disappearing. In their place, look for red, black and purple raspberries, blueberries and blackberries starting in June. Store berries on a paper towel in the fridge for 2-3 days before you eat them...if they last that long!
Grocery store tomatoes shipped from across a continent just can't compare to one grown just a short drive from your home. A huge variety of tomatoes are available in Virginia, and you can try them all, starting in mid-June and extending to the first frost of fall. Richard Goodson, Lionel Osborne, and Charlie Foster are just a few of the vendors who offer locally grown tomatoes at the Abingdon Farmers' Market. (Note: most fruit, including tomatoes and avocados, release ethylene gas. This causes other nearby produce to spoil quicker and lose flavor. Whether they’re stored on the countertop or in the refrigerator or cool pantry, keep fruits and vegetables separate).
Green beans are another vegetable that is best consumed when fresh. These veggies are available starting in midsummer and are available until frost. Whether you serve them steamed with butter and salt, or sauteed with garlic and bacon, they're amazing when they're fresh. Good Guy Gardens offers fresh green beans at the Harrisonburg Farmers' Market.
Whether you like cucumbers eaten fresh on a salad or want to turn them into crisp, tangy pickles, cucumbers are a low-calorie, mid-summer treat. Available from June to late October, cucumbers can be a staple on your table for months.
Eating hot corn on the cob, dripping with butter is a late-summer treat, usually lasting for the months of July and August. Sweet corn doesn't keep long, so try to choose ears that were picked the same day that you intend to cook them, like the cobs at Nalls Farm Market in Berryville.
Fresh watermelon is one thing that makes the dog days of summer bearable. Eat your fill of watermelon from Cromwell's Produce at the Old Beach Farmers' Market, or grab some Bradford watermelons from Casselmonte Farm at Powhatan Farmers' Market starting in August.
Peppers, both hot and sweet varieties, add a spicy punch to many types of cuisine, particularly Mexican, Cajun, and Thai. Typically available in Virginia from July until frost, you can enjoy peppers from the Fredericksburg Farmers' Market for months at a time.
Peaches, Nectarines, Plums
If Virginia didn't have any late spring frosts, you can expect peaches and nectarines to show up in the markets around July and August. Visit Drumheller’s Orchard’s booth for peaches June through August, plums July through late August and pluots mid to late August. Store these stone fruits at room temperature until fully ripe for 2-3 days. Once the fruit is ripe, you can extend its shelf life by storing it in the refrigerator for up to a week.
And, of course, Drumheller’s is known for its apples! Although many varieties aren’t ripe until the fall, starting in July, you can usually find Lodi applies. By August, Honey Crisp, Early Fuji, Gala, Summer Rambo and Jonathon apples start making an appearance at the market.