Hilo Farmers Market - Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii - One of Hawaii's Top Open-Air Markets

The Hilo Farmers Market started out in 1988 with just four farmers selling goods from parked cars and trucks. Since 1999, the operation has been owned and managed by Hawaii-based Hilo Farmers Market LLC, led by Market Master Keith De La Cruz and a team of five retail professionals. Today, the market is home to more than 200 vendors who offer a wide variety of items, from local fruit and vegetables to tropical flowers, Big Island food products, handicrafts and gifts.

Operating on Wednesdays and Saturdays every week, the Hilo Farmers Market is now regarded as one of the state's best open markets. Its festive atmosphere is reminiscent of the island's former "plantation'' days, but it is decidedly modern in many respects. For example, this was the first open market in the nation federally approved to accept food stamps and EBT cards electronically.

Variety is a hallmark of the Hilo Farmers Market. There are vendors certified to sell organic produce, one specializing in fruit popsicles and another that offers up spicy "Lava Salsa.'' Among services available, there is even a massage booth.

Perhaps the most popular category of merchandise here is native fruit. Shoppers can find fresh cherimoya, jaboticaba, lychee, mango, papaya, pineapple, rambutan, soursop, strawberries, and white pineapple. The jackfruit is said to be especially good, available year round and offered cut and ready to eat, as well as whole fruit.

Vegetables for sale include baby ginger, bitter melon, bok choy, eggplant, hydroponic lettuce, organic spinach, sweet corn, and warabi. Among flowers and plants for sale are anthuriums, bonsai plants, herbs, orchids, protea, and tropical flowers.

A number of specialty food items can be purchased, too, including awa juice/powder/root, coconut pastries, jelly (ohia, lemon), Peruvian tamales, and Portuguese bread. There are also many local seafood delights, such as ahi, opihi, uhu, dried fish, and fish sausage. Those looking for gift items and crafts will discover everything from beads, jewelry, and puka shell anklets to t-shirts, woodwork items, and even bongo drums.

Through the market's web site, coupons can be printed out for special discounts each month. Valid only for in-person purchases, web coupons must be redeemed at the appropriate vendor.

Anyone interested in setting up shop at the Hilo Farmers Market can do so on a day-by-day or long-term basis. Stalls are available in three basic sizes, 5' x 5', 5' x 10' and 8' x 8', at rates of $17 to $28 per day. Vendors must bring their own tables. Those offering cooked or processed foods are responsible for obtaining a license from the Department of Health.

Located in historic downtown Hilo on the corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street, the Hilo Farmers Market is open every Wednesday and Saturday throughout the year "from dawn `til it's gone.'' The mailing address is P.O. Box 34, Hilo, Hawaii 96720. To get there from Hilo International Airport, take State Highway 11 north to State Highway 19, also known as Kamehameha Avenue. Turn left and pass through the downtown to Mamo Street. Free, unmetered parking is available at Mo'oheau Park and on all the surrounding side streets.

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