The Region's Bountiful Farmers Markets
By Tracy Ziemer
parking lots and roadside curbs are being transformed into
a cornucopia of fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and succulent
baked goods. In the tri-state area, this means that even urban
dwellers can have a tete-a-tete with a farmer and load up
on natural foods that are a feast for the eyes, nose and,
most importantly, taste buds -- all without having to leave
Every week, farmers markets become the true natural grocery
store for more than a million Americans. Last year, consumers
spent $1 billion at farmers markets, according to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. No wonder. Stop by a sun-kissed
outdoor stand, and you'll notice fruit and vegetable bins
ablaze with color like an open box of Crayola crayons, from
fire hydrant-red strawberries to verdant greens and herbs.
"It's the most pleasurable one-stop shopping experience
you can have," says Brendan Corr, field manager of Greenmarket,
a farmers market program in New York City's five boroughs.
"It's all about getting fresh regional produce, some
of which is so new and different that it can't even be found
in stores yet. Really, though, it's about interfacing between
the farmer and the people."
Benefiting from the markets are small farm operators who
can get a higher price for the food they grow by selling directly
to the consumer. It's a win-win situation for the buyer, too,
since purchasing directly from the farmer keeps costs down.
According to Ramu Govindasamy, assistant professor in the
Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics and
Rutgers University in New Jersey, who has studied New Jersey
farmers markets, the savings can amount to 10 to 20 percent.
With some 3,000 farmers markets nationwide and 370 in the
tri-state area, no two markets are the same. This makes for
a truly unique shopping experience, whether you're in Manhattan,
Paterson, NY, or Warwick, NY.
The largest program in the tri-state area is Greenmarket
(212-477-3220), the brainchild of Barry Benepe, who grew up
on a farm in Maryland, worked in New York as a city planner
and became concerned with preserving opportunities for farmers.
Greenmarket began in 1976 with nine farmers and a vacant lot
on 59th Street in Manhattan and exploded into 38 outdoor farmers
markets at 29 locations throughout the city that operate as
often as four days a week, serving approximately 250,000 people
weekly from May to December.
As many as 65 farmers sell their wares on summer Saturdays
at Greenmarket's flagship market at Union Square in Manhattan,
where bearded organic farmers mix with a Cole Haan-heeled
crowd. It seems like an odd pairing, but it works.
"I love it here," says John Gorzynski, an organic
farmer from New York's Sullivan County, who has been a Union
Square Greenmarket fixture for 21 years. "People ask
me about things I haven't tried before, and it helps me to
constantly find new things to grow." Gorzynski is known
for his root vegetables, like the Rose Flesh radish, a pinkish
veggie with a sweet and spicy bite.
The rules of Greenmarket are that farmers can only sell what
they grow (likewise, fisherman can sell only the catch netted
from their boats in regional waters), and farms must be located
within a 150-mile radius of the city. The market attracts
farmers from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts and everywhere
in between. However, specialty farmers, such as those in Vermont
who make maple syrup, are occasionally allowed to sell at
The sampling of goods at Greenmarket sites makes one delirious
with the possibilities of their use in the kitchen. One unique
market staple is the heirloom tomato, grown from seeds with
a 100-year-old history and prized for its pure, sweet flavor.
Expect to bump elbows with such renowned chefs as Gary Kunz
and restaurant owners such as Danny Meyer of Union Square
Cafe and Gramercy Tavern while shopping for this esteemed
tomato, which comes in such unusual colors as purple and brown.
Whatever you do, stop by for the corn and plan to buy a lot
of it. "In the summer, farmers deliver corn in two waves
so that the corn they're selling has been picked just two
hours before," reports Corr. "It's just unbelievable."
As are the 85 different kinds of apples, from Mutsu to the
best-selling Macoun, a good candidate for baking and eating
raw. Discover the sour cherry pies, ginger rhubarb jam, and
bottles of Seyval Blanc from the Anthony Road Wine Company
in Seneca County, NY. Take the edge off a warm afternoon with
a pint of outstanding Ronnybrook Farm ice cream, available
in more than a dozen flavors from plain Jane vanilla to taste-bud
tickling raspberry chocolate truffle.
Still, even those markets that are smaller in scale than
Greenmarket offer something very special. Peruse the zucchini
blossoms, chocolate loaves, gooseberries, currants and goat's
milk products (cheese, yogurt, quiches, soaps, lotions and
fudge) at the Warwick Valley Farmers Market on South Street,
Warwick, NY (914-987-9990). Nineteen vendors can be found
at the site on Sundays during the summer months.
It's literally one-stop shopping in Paterson, NJ, where the
Paterson Market Growers (973-742-1019) have combined space
for specialty stores and the farmers market. Along one side
of the East Railway Avenue are six specialty stores, including
a butcher shop and Fruti Mex, a tropical fruit outlet. Market
International sells ethnic food and ingredients. Across the
street are open sheds where 30 regional farmers from New York,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland come to sell their goods.
The size of the market and its hours of operation -- seven
days a week from April until December -- make it one of the
state's largest farmers markets. On the weekends, approximately
5,000 people bring their wallets and appetites to the Paterson
site, reports former market manager Drew Borinksi.
Paterson's side-by-side pairing of the specialty stores and
outdoor farm-fresh produce creates a particularly special
environment, where one's shopping list can run the gamut and
still be satisfied. Pick up some five-spice rub from Market
International and farm-fresh bok choy, mushrooms and other
assorted vegetables from the outdoor stand, and whip up a
More than 12,000 people visited the Peekskill Farmers Market
(914-737-2780) on Saturdays from June till October last year.
This year, in addition to the veggies and baked goods, there
will be weekly demonstrations on how to plant your own garden
and use compost. This gardening how-to will be given by Peekskill,
NY, native Pat Reber, a graduate of Cornell University's Master
Joe Davidson manages the Farmers Market in White Plains,
NY (914-422-1336), a small but lively haven for seven farmers
and community members in search of the freshest fare in New
York. The six-year-old market, run by the Department of Recreation
and Parks, is the "best in the county," Davidson
boasts. He is clearly partisan, but he certainly knows his
stuff. Davidson is a member of the New York State Farmers
Market Board and delights in the growing sweet trend toward
shopping at farmers markets.
"People just love it," he says. "They have
an opportunity to get fresh produce at very reasonable prices.
How can you go wrong?" In White Plains, the verdant lettuces
are a hit in June, but the biggest draws are plump tomatoes
and sweet corn that peak in July.
No matter where the market is located, there's a general
consensus among growers and buyers that the freshness and
prices can't be beat.
"I like the range of stuff I can find at the market,
and I like that it's outdoors," says Christopher Moore,
32, who has been shopping at northern New Jersey farmers markets
in Madison, Summit and elsewhere for about five years and
tends to return to the same farmers whose stuff he likes.
"I'd much rather buy blueberries from a farmers market
than from a grocery store because they're fresher."
Beyond the freshness factor, farmers markets offer an intangible
benefit as well. "It's a social scene, really,"
confides Moore of the market in Summit, NJ, where approximately
eight farmers come weekly during the summer. "It makes
the downtown area come alive. If there wasn't a farmers market
going on in that parking lot on a Sunday, there'd be nothing
going on there. It brings people together."
Above all, be prepared when you go to the market. Plan on
carrying a tote bag with you to hold your purchases, and don't
forget the sunblock and your sunglasses or to bring cash to
buy your goodies. Arriving early is also a good idea, before
markets get too hot and overcrowded. That way you'll have
the best pick of the produce, most of which was probably picked
just the day before.
A directory of farmers markets in your area is just a click
away. Consult the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Web site
at www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets for a listing of USDA-sponsored
markets anywhere in the nation. Or call the Farmers Market
Hotline, (800) 384-8704, to request a packet of information.
Welcome summer with a trip to a farmers market, and enjoy
the bounties of the tri-states' freshest and best. You and
your taste buds will appreciate the difference.
Copyright Spotlight Magazine
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