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.”