Stephen Batiz, an artist who spent the past two summers selling artisanal pickles at the grandfather of all markets on Union Square, confirms that business slows down in summer but usually resumes after Labor Day, especially for the spicy pickles. “People really like the Mean Beans,” he says.
A year after severe storms ruined many small farmers’ late-summer and autumn crops in the New York area, the farmers’ markets are thriving amid an ever-growing appetite for fresh produce. Over a quarter of New York State’s farmers’ markets (138) are in New York City according to a recent state report. In the last six years, 58 new markets have opened, an increase of 73 percent.
GrowNYC, the non-profit who organizes the Greenmarkets, started 36 years ago with 12 farmers on 59th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan. Now it’s the largest network of farmers’ markets in the country, with 54 locations in New York City. This summer four brand new Greenmarket sites were added in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. Block by block, more communities are provided with fresh and locally grown food.
“They’ve got the best stuff,” says Matthew Heaphy, a customer at the green market at Bartel-Pritchard Square who stopped on his way to work to buy the ingredients for a Greek salad.
“It’s fresh,” says Richard Shanly, another regular, biting into a plum. “It goes directly from the farm to the stand.”
On a recent sunny Wednesday, a group of reporters from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism spread out across the city to sample the flavor of various markets. From Union Square to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, here’s a taste of what the reporters found in the waning days of summer. -Ezra Eeman
Hot Bread Kitchen: ‘I also like what’s behind it’
Yeneri Cartagena works slowly. She lays white tablecloths over folding tables, then turns to the truck parked behind her to pull out brown paper bags of warm, crusty bread. It’s 6 a.m. and the sun has only just begun to rise over Union Square. Next she finds a box of small blue signs and slowly props each one next to a particular bread. The whole-wheat injera is stashed in a cooler behind her, Armenian Lavash crackers and m’smen are on full display.
Hot Bread Kitchen is a nonprofit organization that trains women with limited financial resources to bake bread in a professional kitchen. They focus on recipes from the women’s native countries which makes for a bread selection as diverse as the city itself.
Cartagena has not been working long with Hot Bread Kitchen, just two weeks, but she already prefers it to her old job at Victoria’s Secret. Not only is the pay better, but Cartagena is proud of the work she does for the nonprofit. “I also like what’s behind it,” she says.
When the commuters start tramping their way up the subway steps, Cartagena says the ones who stop will probably want bialys. They’re topped with caramelized onions and make an irresistible breakfast. Her favorite is the raisin challah, but she hasn’t tried them all yet.
- By Kathleen Culliton
Boston Road: ‘I’m good at sales now’
A farmers’ market in the Bronx is helping community members get jobs and get healthy while getting fresh food. The youth-run market, at the intersection of Boston Road and 169th Street, is part of GrowNYC’s Learn it, Grow it, Eat it project that trains local teenagers to grow produce, sell it, and educate their community about nutrition through a paid summer internship.
“They like it because they get exposed to different things,” said Kori Petrovic, who works for GrowNYC and helps organize this particular market. “Here we focus mainly on gardening and nutrition education,” she said. The students grow some of the food they sell here at a community garden down the street, and sometimes demonstrate recipes for customers using their produce.
GrowNYC coordinator Ryan Morningstar said the best part of his job is seeing students develop business skills. “The best part is when I’m not around, to hear the kids actually telling consumers what they should be buying from our market.”
Veniece Mercado, 18, is an intern who found out about the program through a class at her school, and has been working at the market all summer. “I’m good at sales now,” she said, “Now I can tell people about the food. I try to interest them”
Neighbors come to the market for its uniquely fresh food. “Around the area we have a lot of bodegas,” said Tausha Wilkins, 27, who lives a block away. “We don’t have a big food chain, so this is better quality stuff,” she said. Wilkins has learned a lot from the program about nutrition, “I got a recipe up here for zucchini last week,” she said.
The market is open every Wednesday until November – a month longer than last year – due to popular demand.
By Kathleen Caulderwood
Tribeca: ‘You’ve got to be a good consumer’
The four vendors at the Tribeca Greenmarket were consistently making sales throughout the morning on a Wednesday in September, but the Whole Foods Market on Greenwich Street, which moved in just down the block four years ago, serves as a competition, said people at the market.
Rich Valentin, who has lived a few blocks away from the market for 15 years, says he routinely shops at farmer’s markets around the city, including the Tribeca Greenmarket. But he was disappointed with the selection of vendors that day. “I came here looking for blueberries,” he said. “They don’t have any.”
Valentin, who sometimes finds the prices at farmer’s markets to be “over-inflated,” said he often ends up going to Whole Foods Market down the block. “Farmer’s markets are not always consistent, and there’s not as much variety,” he said. “Whole Foods has more selection, it’s cheaper and it’s still organic.”
“I try to be a good sport and come to the farmers markets,” said Valentin, who often buys organic food but said he is not an “organic guru.” “I like going to farmer’s markets, but you’ve got to be a good consumer and go where the price is right.”
Oscar Peralta, who has manned the booth of Francesca’s Bakery for the past five years, said that he’s made less profit since the Whole Foods Market moved in down the block. Peralta said that Whole Foods can provide some elements that a farmer’s market simply cannot: “In the winter they have heat, in the summer they have air conditioning, and they have everything available year round,” he said.
The Tribeca Greenmarket is open Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the year.
- Rachel Bryson-Brockmann
Botanical Garden: ‘I get my breakfast here every day’
A vendor at the New York Botanical Garden farmer’s market smiles into the distance at an approaching customer making her way across the sprawling green lawn toward the row of shaded tents.
“The usual,” she says, catching her breath. Vendor Joseph Bases responds with a nod, delicately removing a large chocolate croissant from its glass display case. Bases owns The Little Bake Shop, a staple at the NYBG greenmarket, whose main clientele are staff from the Historic Landmark site.
“I get my breakfast here every day,” says a customer who identifies herself as Jenna Conversano. “Like conversation,” she says, nibbling at her pastry.
Bases’ chocolate croissants and chocolate chip cookies are his best sellers, and he said he sees a good number of people come through for them every week. When the market winds down at the end of the day he takes the time to enjoy the scenery himself, often locking up his van and going for a stroll.
“It’s my favorite market,” Bases says. “It’s above and beyond; very beautiful, very bucolic.”
The mild weather has drawn employees like Conversano out of offices to the paved walkway across from the Tulip Tree Allee, a lush expanse of greenery framed by the branches of century-old trees where the greenmarket is held each Wednesday. Conversano, a Public Programs intern with the NYBG, said the trip to the market is her favorite part of the day.
“Everybody here is smiling, all the time,” said Jampa Thinley, looking up from behind heaps of turnips in shades of bright purple, red, and pink. Thinley, who oversees the Migliorelli Farms tent at the greenmarket, began selling his produce here in 2008.
Greenmarket Regional Coordinator Margaret Hoffman helps organize the weekly market. She is part of the GrowNYC network, a nonprofit whose four-pronged approach encourages city residents to recycle, shop, and grow sustainably. The group’s network includes 54 farmer’s markets, or greenmarkets.
Hoffman says the NYBG greenmarket has a unique, off-the-beaten-path feel. “We’re tucked away on private grounds here,” she says. Unlike the majority of the city’s markets, which are on public land, the Botanical Garden greenmarket is located within the garden’s sweeping 230-acre grounds.
But Hoffman doesn’t think the location is a deterrent to other Bronx customers, many of whom, she says, rely on greenmarkets for fresh produce.
Restaurant owner Tom Patillis, who manages a coffee shop a few blocks away, says getting fresh produce in the Bronx is an arduous task. “Try to buy asparagus around here,” he says, waving a hand toward the street.
When asked whether she feels the market, which takes place Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., conflicts with the schedules of working parents – over 150,000 Bronx households have two or more people who work – Hoffman says no.
“People make their schedules work,” she says. “This isn’t a grocery store.”
Every week, the team behind the greenmarket updates a phone system that allows customers to call in and hear what’s fresh that week. Organizers say that helps families plan healthy meals.
“When you come off the train and you’re sludging through dirty, smelly New York City streets you come out and stumble across this little oasis,” she said. “What’s not to love about this market?”
-Erin Brodwin and Jillian Eugenios
Bartel-Pritchard Square: ‘Everyone knows each other here’
A shirtless Arturog Stefanelli stopped in front of the Bread Alone stand at Bartel-Pritchard Square, trying not to break pace. “I’ll have two,” he said, starting to jog off into the park. “I’ll be back in fifteen.”
This Greenmarket has been near the 15th Street entrance to Prospect Park for 16 years, giving off the small town vibe of a cozy community.
It’s a modest market with only four vendors – two farms and a bread company from upstate New York, and a Long Island seafood supplier. But by 9 a.m. a steady of stream of Park Slope residents are already pouring in.
Mothers get their shopping done, pushing strollers with sleeping babies. Passing joggers and bikers slow down, taking in the day’s offerings and planning to come back later.
The shoppers all seem to be regulars, chatting and saying hello even if they aren’t buying anything. It all feels very friendly.
“I like the people. Everyone knows each other here,” said Jigme Dorjee, who sells produce like carrots, onions, and peppers for J. Glebocki Farms. “It doesn’t feel like New York City.”
But while the community feel is important, the goods are what bring in most of the shoppers.
“They’ve got the best stuff,” said Matthew Heaphy, who stopped on his way to work to buy the ingredients for a Greek salad.
“It’s fresh,” said Richard Shanly, another customer, biting into a plum. “It goes directly from the farm to the stand.”
By 11 a.m. the market musicians showed up, as they do most Wednesdays. Calling themselves Band Ade, they play folk tunes for a growing crowd of parents and kids.
“We work for food,” said Elaine Beery, the band’s upright bass player. “We usually spend whatever we collect.”
Stefanelli came back to the bread vendor to collect his loaves right on time, sweaty but smiling. “I just finished jogging,” he said. “Now I’m rewarding myself.”
-Matthew J. Perlman
Union Square: ‘People really like the Mean Beans’
Union Square Greenmarket vendors are enjoying the crisp feel of autumn after the lull during the dog days of summer.
Many of their regular customers went away on summer vacations, but business always picks up after Labor Day. Stewart Borowsky, longtime owner of Union Square Grassman, which specializes in wheatgrass for juices, took some time off from the market himself when he knew many of his customers would be away. “My time away also coincided with the slow growing time in the hotter months,” he said.
Business seemed slow at Rick’s Picks, a cloth-covered table laden with artisanal pickles. Stephen Batiz, an artist, spent the past two summers working part-time at Rick’s. He confirmed that business slowed down toward the end of summer, but always picks up in autumn – especially for the spicy pickles. “People really like the Mean Beans,” he said.
Judit Rea from Astoria was one of them. As a personal chef for a Manhattan family, she intently inspected the red bell peppers at the Kernan Farms stand. “It’s my favorite since it’s easy to get to and has a wonderful selection of produce,” she said.
- By Meredith Rosenberg
57th Street: Reflections on Hurricane Irene
Joe Morgiewicz knows farming. A fourth-generation farmer at Morgiewicz Produce in Goshen, New York, Morgiewicz has seen it all: record high temperatures, and record lows; produce yields that exceeded his wildest expectations, and yields that fell far below his most conservative projections; searing drought and, as last August, a deluge that drowned most of the crops on his 130 acres.
“The worst thing about farming? That’s easy: getting flooded out,” Morgiewicz said. He said the storms and resulting floods wreaked by Hurricane Irene on much of the East Coast almost exactly a year ago were devastating. “We lost everything,” he grimly recalled. “Things were late to start anyway—the tomatoes and peppers were just getting going—and they all just got completely washed out.”
Morgiewicz said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from his customers post-flood. “We heard from them immediately. They wanted to know how we were doing, how bad the damage was. It was touching,” Morgiewicz, who sells his produce at the 57th Street Greenmarket in Manhattan, recalled.
For area farmers like Morgiewicz, recollections of Irene haven’t faded. The magnitude of the storm’s effects is staggering: 2.3 million people living on the East Coast were forced to evacuate their homes; 26 river flooding records were broken; and the damage totaled $15 billion. $78.6 million of that figure went to farmers in nine Northeastern states, in the form of insurance claims paid by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More than half of the damaged land was in New York State, including Orange County, where Morgiewicz farms.
“After something like that happens to you, you kind of have to bury yourself in other things for a while,” he said. “But eventually, you have to turn around and deal with it.” A glance at his long display table, loaded with sweet onions, purple eggplant, fragrant tomatoes of all hues, and ever-in-demand ears of summer corn makes it clear that Morgiewicz has rebounded. And judging from the cluster of shoppers gathered around his booth, his customers are glad to have him back.
- Lauren Rothman
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza: ‘Adventure in Every Fish’
Pura Vida Fisheries is at the end of a long line of colorful farmers market tents. Their tent and tables might not possess as much flare and color as the other vendors’, but manager Ryan Eberts would argue that the taste of the his fish makes up for that.
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza host a farmers markets on Wednesday and Pura Vida has become a staple for local Turtle Bay residents to buy fresh-farmed fish. The Long Island company arrives at the plaza early and unloads long rectangular wood crated filled with a wide variety of fish.
Along with the fish, Pura Vida has coolers full of fresh shellfish that they buy from Long Island merchants before making the trek to the city.
“Sometimes we even buy from kids selling their fresh shellfish on the side of the roads,” Eberts said. That’s how the owner of Pura Vida, started the company. Eberts said the owner would go clamming in the morning and sell his catch to people driving home from work later that day. The owner of the Hampton Bays company is now captain of three fishing vessels.
The New York City farmer’s markets are a far cry from the mayhem that used to happen at the Fulton Street Fish Market, Eberts said. “Here we can offer a personal touch, sort of one-on-one experience that becomes a ritual for our customers.”
Along with selling the fish underneath their tent, Ryan and Paul also offer great ways to cook certain fish and recommend other vendors’ produce to cook it with. Most buyers try a new fish every time they come Paul said. Why?
“There’s a little adventure,” he says, “in every fish.”
Youthmarket: ‘You have to know how to work with people’
When Giovanni Edwards and a couple of his high school friends set up a makeshift produce stand in Bed-Stuy seven years ago, they had no idea how big their small market would become.
Edwards, 23, co-runs GrowNYC’s Youthmarkets, a non-profit initiative that brings greenmarkets to underserved communities while providing youth training programs.
It all started when Edwards, then 16, and his teen-aged friends bought produce from the larger farmers’ markets to sell within their own community.
“My neighborhood, for one, wasn’t necessarily a food desert, but there was very, very short access to fresh food period,” Edwards said. “I think our neighborhood had the demand for the fresh produce and to create a farmer’s market.”
Within the next several years, the teenagers got a partnership with GrowNYC – the nonprofit group that organizes New York City’s greenmarkets. This year, there are 11 youth-run stands throughout the city and at least one in each borough.
Today, Edwards is working at one of the 11 Youthmarkets at the Roberto Clemente Youthmarket in the South Bronx that set up shop for the first time in July.
Every Wednesday morning, a group of youths gather under a small tent here on Third Avenue between 148th and 149th streets to sell produce straight from of the upstate farms.
“What separates us from the regular green market is that we work with community partners in the area to bring youth to the market to work with us,” said Jayson Rosado, 19, Youthmarket manager.
The Roberto Clemente Youthmarket has been working with about 60 youths from SoBRO, a nonprofit organization in the South Bronx that provides career development opportunities for youth and adults.
“This gives young people a chance to learn, get job training, get life skills,” said Earl Dwyer, construction manager at SoBRO. “You have to be here on time, you have to be punctual, you have to know how to work with people.”
Since it set up its tent a little over one month ago, the food stand has been already making friends with the local customers.
Carmen Whitaker has been taking the bus each Wednesday from her home near the Bronx Zoo to come to the market. With a walking stick in one hand and bags of produce in the other, Whitaker says she keeps coming back because the food is fresh and healthy, and that the service is good.
“I would like to see more in the Bronx,” she said. “We need it.”