Deliciously Fresh

Ask anyone from local and national media to the average customer in Orscheln’s, and you’ll hear how Iowa farmers have taken a hard hit this year. Because of heavy spring rains many never had a chance to plant their corn or soybeans. And the subsequent flooding has ruined many crops already in the ground.

However, Iowa City and Coralville residents can rest assured that a vital part of Iowa agriculture is still alive and well: the local farmers market. We’ve come to rely on these markets for the ripest tomatoes and the freshest green beans all summer long. In fact, the Iowa City/Coralville area sustains three different farmers markets, giving you the chance to buy fresh, local produce five days a week.

Iowa City Farmers Market Coordinator Tammy Neumann admits that some harvests were certainly delayed by the wet growing season, especially the sweet corn. And Coralville’s Farmers Market Manager Matt Hibbard warns that the abundant rains have stunted produce such as strawberries and spinach. However, they both agree that local shoppers will still have plenty of produce to choose from.

“As far as I know, none of our vendors has suffered a significant loss in produce,” says Neumann.

Downtown Farmers Market
Wednesday 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Saturday 7:30 – 11:30 a.m.

A downtown institution more than 35 years old, the Iowa City farmers market held in the Chauncey Swan parking ramp infuses the downtown area with life even after the majority of university students have vacated for the summer. This event is bye far the largest market in town. On Saturdays, 81 vendors fill 112 stalls in the parking ramp; on Wednesdays the number’s about half that (due to the need for extra consumer parking space on week nights).

These vendors sell a variety of local fruits and vegetables, naturally raised meat, flowers and potted plants, and handmade jewelry and soap. The one rule all vendors must obey is that their wares “are grown or made by them.” This limitation guarantees a unique experience for farmers market shoppers and, along with the wide range of items for sale, offers consumers an excellent resource for thoughtful gifts and household items, in addition to local produce.

In recent years, the market has become quite a community event. With the addition of live music from local musicians on Saturday (new this year) and grilling vendors, the area adopts a very social atmosphere, and shoppers often stop to talk to friends and neighbors. To coincide with the market, the city also offers Art in the Park, a drop-in arts program for children. Taught by recreation division art instructors, this program runs from 9 to 11:00 a.m. every Saturday through July and August. Adults can also learn something new with once-a-month cooking demonstrations by area chefs.

Coralville Farmers Market
Monday 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Thursday 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Instead of being the main attraction, Coralville’s farmers market is only a part of the community activities. It’s not that the produce is any less desirable. However, there are fewer vendors due to the smaller space. Although vendors have been small in number recently – due to the difficulties of traveling in and around Coralville – Hibbard expects 10-12 the vendors to return soon. As the summer progresses, the number increases to as many as 20 vendors, just the right amount for the space allotted.

Coralville’s farmers market is a combination of quick and easy shopping and family fun, offering something for everyone. Its central location near the Community Aquatic Center caters to the after-work crowd swinging through on their way home to put dinner on the table.

However, the proximity to the pool and the pastoral setting of Morrison Park also lend a relaxed air to the market for other attendees. The market features acoustic music by local performers for those that want to linger over their purchases. The Thursday night Music in the Park enhances the family-friendly atmosphere. People come with blankets and lawn chairs, prepared to enjoy the free concert series and lazy summer evening.

Sycamore Mall Farmers Market
Tuesday 3:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

While the downtown Iowa City and Coralville farmers markets have developed into larger events with prepared food and entertainment, the Sycamore Mall farmers market is just that: a market. It boasts at least a dozen vendors selling a wide variety of wares from meat and produce to potted plants, baked goods, and arts and crafts.

This is the ultimate market for a shopper looking for a quick stop after work. Its location in the parking lot of the Sycamore Mall provides ample parking and very few traffic headaches, even during the busy five o-clock hour.

Retail Options

Throughout the year, Iowa City residents can rely on the New Pioneer Coop, The Bread Garden and even HyVee and Fairway to carry SOME local produce. However, only at farmers markets are you guaranteed food by area farmers. While these retail options all supply an assortment of organic food, studies estimate that processed food in the United States travels over 1,300 miles, and fresh produce travels over 1,500 miles, before being consumed.

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