The scene is quaint, whimsical even. The telltale signs are evident—people bicycling down the historic streets wearing straw hats, with overflowing baskets of goodies. Or they stroll from the area with large cloth bags draped over shoulders; greens, flowers, and baguettes just visible over the tops, providing tangible evidence it is indeed, market day. The setting could be any 19th century town on a waterfront. But it is in fact, modern day Lewes, Delaware.

The Historic Lewes Farmers Market is set on the grounds of the Lewes Historical Society Complex. Buildings well over 200 years old stand as a gentry of sorts in the background, setting the stage for the marrying of the old with the new, while simultaneously bringing the practices of the past into the present, making them viable options for modern-day living.

The market is backed by a non-profit—aptly named the Historic Lewes Farmers Market—and was started in 2006 by a group of volunteers. It is a community-based, producer-only market that seeks to save the land, provide ways for farmers to stay in business, and educate children and adults on the benefits of eating fresh, local foods. It is environmentally friendly, a working lesson in real sustainability, and an example of how community efforts can make a real difference. Its success is evident.

The HLFM was designated Delaware’s Best Market for 2011, and recently won an even grander award—America’s Favorite Farmers Market (mid-size). According to Helaine Harris, President of the HLFM, the organization won the distinction by being chosen out of 1700 other markets across the country.  The award comes from the American Farmland Trust, whose mission—to save the land that sustains us—is from the same school of thought as the HLFM. On a national and local level groups such as these with sustainability in mind are making a tangible change in communities. The HLFM, only seven years young, is understandably thrilled regarding this latest award.

“It was such a great honor,” said Harris.

Aside from the awards, the success of the market can be witnessed by simply taking a Saturday morning to stroll the grounds and visit the vendors. 38 producers now call the HLFM home every Saturday morning from late May through the fall. For anyone who appreciates the beauty in the vibrant colors of fresh produce, or the taste differentials in grain fed meats and eggs—the Historic Lewes Farmers Market is a destination that must be visited.

Part of what the market wishes to accomplish is to make these local products available to the community, which in turn will illustrate the benefits of buying and thus supporting local farms because the taste, texture, and nutrition content speaks for itself. When we visited, the various vendors featured exotic mushrooms, a variety of breads and pastries, Gluten free and vegan cookies, Tuscan Kale, Swiss Chard, zucchini, lettuces, jellies, strawberries, blueberries, fish and shellfish, chicken and ducks eggs, grain fed and organic meats, lamb, raw wool and wool blankets, plants of all types, herbs, cut flowers, yogurts, cheeses—and that’s only part of the list. It is possible to visit this market and not have to additionally shop at a traditional grocery store—there is that much variety.

Behind the scenes of the market, over 200 volunteers are making this community-supported venture happen. Local and visiting chefs prepare foods during seasonal cooking demonstrations using produce and other foods found at that week’s market. The Lewes Library has an on-site Children’s Story Hour every Saturday from 9 – 10am. Librarian Maureen Miller selects a story centered around the themes of growth, change, and healthy eating. Interactive projects follow, making the themes come alive. The Historic Lewes Farmers Market is then more than just a place to buy locally grown goods; it’s a place to learn, to interact, and enjoy the shared community spirit.

In addition to the efforts put forth to bring the weekly market to fruition, the Historic Lewes Farmers Market also works with local farmers to educate them on the best ways to market their goods, and on the latest practices in sustainable farming. For the past five years the HLFM has awarded scholarships to local farmers to enable them to attend the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), Farming for the Future Conference. PASA is a nonprofit dedicated to improving the economic viability and environmental soundness of the local food and agricultural systems.

The Historic Lewes Market is held every Saturday from 8am – 12 Noon. It is centrally located at 110 Shipcarpenter Street, on the grounds of the Lewes Historical Society Complex to encourage walking or biking. For those who wish to visit from out of town, you are certainly more than welcome. Street parking is available, (hint: try 3rd street). 3,000 – 4,000 people visit each week, making this a very busy market. But, the vendors come well prepared with plenty of fresh, just picked and plucked goods; they are used to the high volume. Do come early for the largest selection.

For more information and a complete list of vendors visit the Historic Lewes Farmers Market website.

Photos by Andrea Bowland. Featured photo on homepage from Historic Lewes Farmer’s Market Facebook page.