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By Emma Frisch, Food Network Star Finalist, Chef, Food Blogger, and Former Farmer

Not only is the Ithaca Farmers Market one of the most rustic and bountiful markets in the United States, it is historically recognized for pioneering a vision around Slow Food.

{{ image(2775, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”:”200″, “height”:”200″, “method”: “img”}) }}The market began in 1974, quickly outgrowing its original location on Taughannok Boulevard and moving to the southern banks of Cayuga Lake. Open on weekends, the market welcomes between 3,000 and 5,000 people, 30 percent of which are tourists who make the pilgrimage for a taste of the greater Ithaca region. Some arrive by canoe, kayak or boat!

The market has maintained its founding principle for more than 40 years: Vendors must be producing their own goods within 30 miles of the marketplace. Though this was a rare requirement in the early ‘70s, the market has flourished with support from more than 100 vendor-members, the surrounding community and adventurous visitors.

I asked market-goers, “What does the Ithaca Farmers Market mean to you?” One person noted that they traveled “all the way from NYC to buy produce from the farmers market. Seeing all of the beautiful fruits, vegetables, baked goods and delicious foods literally makes me smile from ear to ear!”

While 60 percent of the vendors sell agricultural produce, 20 percent sell processed food like preserves or take-away lunch for a family outing. Another visitor said, “The variety of foodstuffs from our region is wonderful. I like talking with the farmers and owners, and have discovered new favorite radishes, cheeses and peanut lime sauce.”

{{ image(2776, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”:”200″, “height”:”200″, “method”: “img”}) }}Another unique feature of the Ithaca Farmers Market is its appreciation for other artisan trades. The remaining 20 percent of its vendors sell artistic goods that are unrivaled by most craft fairs. In between picking up fresh produce, visitors can find gifts for friends such as jewelry, soaps, pottery or hand-woven baskets, or splurge on their own handmade leather purse or silk-screened dress. Vendors can customize their booths, creating their own special retail experience for guests.

Ultimately, market-goers (including myself) all note that a trip to the market is never complete without running into someone you know — or many. Although the Ithaca Farmers Market welcomes an astounding number of people every weekend, it has not lost the intimate charm one finds in a tightknit community, where you are bound to share a meaningful connection with friends, family, and the people growing your food.

What is your local farmers market like? Share with us on Facebook or in the comments below.