To know a city is to know its Farmers' Market. It is where tourists familiarize themselves with the foods of the region and pick up
the gossip of where to find the very best restaurants. It is where residents make lasting relationships with their farmers and
grow to trust the quality of the foods that they produce. Shoppers delight in the anticipation of treats to come as the seasons
advance, and worry right along with the farmers when the rain is too scarce, or too plentiful.
The site of the 17th Street Farmers' Market has been a public gathering place since 1737, and is one of America's oldest public
markets. The Farmers' Market has always been at the intersection of local commerce for two reasons -- the proximity to the river
and the fact that Main Street served as the main road between Richmond and Williamsburg and nearby Shockoe Creek was used by small
boats bringing shellfish to awaiting customers. When the Virginia General Assembly officially moved to Richmond in 1779, a "public
market" was established. Once a thriving hub of commerce and trading, the Farmers' Market has seen many incarnations.
By 1854, The Farmers' Market had expanded and a larger market building was built on the corner of Main and 17th Streets. During the
Civil War, the First Market House, as it was originally called, served as a gathering place for Confederate soldiers and later as a
barracks for Union Troops. In later decades, shoppers listened to political speeches, visited the police station on the second
floor, and raised their own voices at religious revival meetings.
The Farmers' Market continued to prosper and undergo renovations until the mid 1900's. It was during this time that the
Shockoe Bottom area began to decline. The era of "bigger is better" came, and supermarkets were the modern answer to our grocery
needs and family farmers were seduced by the regular paychecks offered by factories. The First Market House was razed in 1961 and
the Farmers' Market was reduced to scattered vendor stalls, but the predicted total demise never happened.
Today the 17th Street Farmers' Market has begun its renaissance. The open-air structure that is there today was built in the mid
1980's and is currently home to a variety of new offerings for the Richmond community. More importantly, consumers, neighbors and
farmers are rediscovering each other.
For that special Farmers' Market blend of coffee or tea, the crusty breads, the homemade goat cheeses, the aromatic and culinary
herbs or the colorful displays of fresh local fruits and vegetables, the Farmers' Market is the place to be. And don't be surprised
if there is conversation or music in the air to sweeten the day!