With the fall weather approaching, it’s the perfect time to explore one of Charlottesville's most popular attractions, the farmers market, to relax with friends or unwind in solitude. The Farmers Market at IX Art Park, which is just a few minutes’ walk from the Downtown Mall, is one of the many markets in the city. Other markets include the Charlottesville City Market and Farmers in the Park. As a first-timer this past Saturday, I was surprised to see the abundance and variety of vendors. Not only is the market a great way to eat delicious locally sourced foods and buy from local businesses, but it is also a way to give back to the Charlottesville community.
The market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is home to over 60 local vendors selling artisan goods, fresh produce, prepared food and more. The website provides a comprehensive list of all the vendors and some COVID-19 policies to follow — including keeping a distance of six feet from others and masking up.
I showed up right at 9 a.m. and was surprised to find the market already crowded with both visitors and vendors. It was great to see the Charlottesville community gathering together — families, pets and students alike.
During my visit, I was able to go to three food vendors which sold authentic Mexican tacos, sweet and savory Greek dishes and classic home-baked American pies. I highly recommend all three, as they were all delicious, fresh and locally made.
The first vendor I visited was Mexican Tacos, and they sold various Mexican dishes including tacos, burritos and tamales with various meat and topping options. I got two tacos — one chorizo and the other birria — topped with onions, cilantro, pico de gallo and spicy salsa.
Although it was only 9 a.m., there was already a line for this vendor, so I knew I had to try it — and it did not disappoint. The meat and tortilla were fresh and warm, and the toppings and salsa blended well with the juicy meat fillings to create a nice crunch and flavor. Unless you are allergic to a certain topping, I highly recommend finishing your tacos off with all the topping options to experience the dish to its fullest. Next time, I will try the burrito, a popular choice among the people ahead of me in line.
Ambrosia, the second vendor I visited, was recommended to me by a friend, and it sells quiches, baklava and many more authentic Greek dishes. I was not able to try their baklava and other desserts, but I did get a chance to try one of their delicious quiches. With a variety of flavors to choose from it was a tough choice, but I ultimately bought the quiche with caramelized onions, brussels sprouts and bacon. The quiche’s sweet and salty toppings mixed beautifully with the savory custard, and the brussels sprouts created a nice texture and chew against the creamy filling. It was a shame to have tried only one option, so I will definitely try other quiche flavors and maybe grab one of their desserts during my next market visit.
Fourth-year Education student Kacie Park, who has visited the market every week since the summer, has tasted more of Ambrosia’s dishes. A favorite of Park’s is the baklava, which is a dessert with thin and crispy dough flakes interlaid with a sugary hazelnut filling.
“My first time at Ambrosia … I saw this lady furiously stuffing pies and quiche and baklavas into tiny cardboard boxes so I just stopped by to say hi, and she kind of reeled me in, and I tried her famous baklava,” Park said. “After that, I've been going every week, every Saturday to buy a box of baklava for my closest friends and family.”
After Ambrosia, I ended my first farmers market experience with a sweet finish at Family Ties and Pies, a vendor that sells home-baked American pies. Like Ambrosia, there were a vast variety of sweet and savory options to choose from, which made it almost impossible to choose which one to try.
In the end, I decided to try one of their most popular pies — the Apple Crumb. Besides the basic ingredients to bake a pie, the Apple Crumb consists of local apples, pecans, cinnamon and brown sugar, making it the perfect autumnal pie. The sweet custard and soft apples in the filling blend flawlessly with the crumbly topping — both flavor- and texture-wise. Family Ties and Pies sells different sizes of each flavor, including a “cutie size,” which is small enough for one person but big enough to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Overall, I saw and overheard many friendly conversations between customers and vendors, which was a great way to start my early Saturday morning. I was also able to spark up conversations with some of the vendors, which lifted my spirits and made me feel closer to the Charlottesville community.
Fourth-year Education student Jennifer Cheung, who visits the farmers market on a weekly basis, uses the market as a space to relax and recenter after a hard week of classes.
“There's just a lot of joy to being in an environment that is so engaging and social and delicious and fun,” Cheung said. “It's a place where a lot of anxiety I feel, or even just like when undergraduate pressure feels so loud, it's a way to kind of step out of myself — to be active but not tired, to be socializing but not anxious, to be enjoying things without wondering if my time is wasted.”
The incredible variety of options and the high-quality products merit my recommendation for anyone to visit the market. Not only will the food satisfy your cravings, but the conversations you engage in with the vendors will enhance the whole experience and bring some joy to your Saturday morning. The Farmers Market at IX Art Park offers a delicious and welcoming outing for you to enjoy Charlottesville’s fall weather while supporting local businesses.