Marketplace Roots: A (Condensed) History of the Farmer’s Market

September 28, 2023

If you've been to Lancaster County or any county in Pennsylvania, you have likely visited a farmer's market. Farmer's markets are essential to PA for their contributions to the economy and their historical and social impact. To understand the history of the farmer's market is to peer into Lancaster County's rich history and culture.

A Brief History

Farmer's markets in North America date back to the 1600s when European settlers brought the tradition of markets with them. One of the first recorded markets in America was the Boston Market in 1634, made as a continuation of the familiar European market. After the massive success of the Boston Market, others began to appear all over the country, the Philadelphia market being one of the earliest.

Markets in America were initially crucial for urban customers to access the meat, dairy, and produce they could not travel to the countryside for. These food hubs became extremely popular and essential for the country's economic success. As markets grew, so did their purposes. By the 1800s, farmer's markets became important not only for food and the economy but also for social connections. In fact, markets were often the only means for rural citizens to meet and connect with urban citizens. Markets were treated as social gatherings until about the 1950s.

With the 50s came improved roads and high-speed transportation, and farmer's markets slowly disappeared. They would make a comeback in the 1970s, as the public yearned for the better quality produce and lively atmosphere only available at the market. Today, there are over 8,000 farmer's markets in the United States!

Lancaster Central Market

One of the most popular markets in Lancaster is the Lancaster Central Market, a favorite dating back to the 1700s. This month, the Lancaster Central Market was named the "#1 Market in Pennsylvania." We are proud of our friends at Central Market and want to take a moment to reflect on this market's rich history.

The Central Market dates back to 1730 when city planners incorporated a large plot of land into the city plans, particularly for market use. Only 12 years later, King George the Second designated Lancaster a "market town," and a royal decree stated that Lancaster must hold "' two markets in each week…of the year forever in the lot of ground already agreed upon.'"

The Lancaster Central Market became a huge success. This success would soon inspire farmers to open their own curbside markets all over Lancaster, forms of which are still popular today, particularly in the countryside. Today, the Market takes place in a Romanesque building built and revealed by architect James Warner in 1889. The Market is held Tuesday through Saturday and holds up to 60 vendors at a time. According to their site, "it is the oldest, continuously running public farmers market in the country." Congratulations to our friends at the Lancaster Central Market on your recent win!

Support for Farmer's Markets

Farmer's markets of all shapes and sizes offer fresh produce and a robust social outing. They're a great way to support local farmers, contribute to your community, and make new connections! Many of our preserved farms here at LFT participate in the Lancaster Central Market and run farmer's markets of their own. If you're interested in visiting a preserved market or roadside stand, click here to check out LFT's list! If you want to support LFT's farms in other ways, click here.

If you want to learn more about Lancaster Central Market, click here.
We'll see you at the market!




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