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Go Green
The Region's Bountiful Farmers Markets

By Tracy Ziemer
June 2000

Go GreenEmpty 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 the city.

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 market.

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 stir fry.

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 Gardening program.

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 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.

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