Monday, May 26, 2008

New York Greenmarkets

Check out my story on the Greenmarkets in New York City in the latest Farmers' Market Today magazine.

Hum! since the link is not live yet. Here is a preview of the article

Food is nourishment for our soul, our body, and our mind that starts from the moment we pick or select our vegetables at the market. Food is life and it doesn’t come out of a box but from the earth. It is for this reason that while I was in New York recently I went in search of a farmers’ market. Once you have shopped at one you really don’t want to shop in a supermarket ever again. So off I went to Union Sq. Farmers Market on of about 30 markets in the city run by Greenmarkets.

When Greenmarket first started operating they had problems with farmers’ buying their produce at the wholesalers in the City and reselling it at the market. Today Greenmarket has a paid farm inspector who visits the farms on a regular basis and checks that what the farmer is selling is what he is growing producing.

At the end of the day all unsold produce is bagged up and put on City Harvest vans by their volunteers under the supervision of the market manager(s). Last year Union Sq. Market sent 275,000 pounds of food to City Harvest. This is a significant contribution as food in the food banks in NYC has dropped by 40% due in one reason to the stalled Farm Bill in the Senate.

Greenmarket is pretty much self-funded with an operating budget upwards of $1.5 million. This money is used to manage the entire market operation; which includes new initiatives such as the New Farmer Development Project (NFDP).

The NFDP project was created in 2000 as a partnership between Greenmarket and the Cornell Cooperative Extension's NYC Program. The project is based in New York City and supports new farmers within the city, New York's Hudson Valley & Catskill Regions, New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania. The NFDP identifies, educates, and supports immigrants with agricultural experience by helping them become local farmers and establish small farms in the region. Their focus at the moment is on farmers’ from Latin American.

In 2002, Nestor Tello from Mexico and Hector Tejada (pictured on left)
from the Dominican Republic were the first two farmers to come through the program and start selling at the Greenmarkets. By 2007, the project had assisted 17 immigrant farmers’. Because of the cost of insurance the farmers are covered under the NFDP.

The market is continually evolving as funds become available. Currently, Union Square plays host to over 100 public and private schools each year who receive Market Tours and learn about the value of a local food system.

The farms involved vary in acreage from one to 650 acres with 250 acres leased rather than owned. Some of the farmers’ rely entirely on the markets for their income, some have CSAs’ and some are thinking of starting one. For the immigrant farmers however, only 25% are full-time farmers while the rest have winter jobs. The non-immigrant farmers make about 70-100% of their income from the farmers’ market and the rest through selling directly to restaurants and CSAs. Almost all the farmers’ attend more than one market around the city.

Farmer Profiles
Cato Corner Farm, Colchester, CT
They are popular for the raw milk hormone free cheeses. They told me that the market provides them with 70% of their income. Apart from the market sales they also sell directly to restaurants and some specialty shops and wholesale through Artisan Made – Northeast LLC. They have no distributor.

Evolutionary Organic Farms
Kira has been growing and selling in Greenmarket for 12 years. She got a spot at the market the very first year she applied. She derives 90% of her income from the Greenmarkets and the other 10% from a small CSA at her farm. She told me that she “hasn’t seen a change in what customers want but rather a change in what they are willing to try”. Kira grows vegetables that she likes such as raddichio, asian greens, and different varieties of summer and winter squashes. For many years she said “I brought these vegetables to the market only to put them back on the van to take home again. Now I find that customers are trying them and finding that they like them even though they don’t look like they expect”.

Lynnhaven Goat Farm, Pine Bush, New York
She has been with the Saturday market for two years and the Wednesday market for seven months. Lynn told me “that she did not think that she would get a spot before she died” but luck was on her side when Coach Farms Gold Creamery sold their creamery to a big company making them ineligible to stay in the market and she was given their spot. Her operation is tiny 70 goats but the market had made a huge difference in her life and the income she makes at the market supports herself, her son, and her goats. Since she has been at the market she has contracted with local chefs who come to the market and pick up the cheese. She is 100% dependent upon the market income.

Pafftenroth Gardens, Warwick, New York

They have been at the market for 18 years. They grow their produce traditionally and are perhaps the most highly rated produce farmer at the market. They have been listed in Zagats for the past five years whose participants rated the vegetables as “superior root vegetables” and “fabulous.” He has been praised by the likes of Alice Waters, and pursued by local celebrity chefs. Alex told me that his produce is the least expensive in the market and of the highest quality. He grows difference produce, and new things that the customer has not seen before. He has signs up on most of his vegetables telling customers’ what it is and what to do with it. When he comes to the markets on Wednesday and Saturday he starts his day at 3:15 a.m. when he raises and gets home at 8:30 pm. He gets 100% of his income from the market. He is a very friendly farmer indeed.

Stokes Farms. Old Tappan, New Jersey
They have been with the market for 31 years. They have a farm stand too and 17 greenhouses where they grow flowers and herbs. They told me that the flowers and herbs out of six of the greenhouses come to the Union Sq. market. They are known for the excellent fresh produce and their big beautiful herb plants. They also have a nice mix of heirloom tomatoes. The major changes that they have seen in their 31 years at the market are that customers are much more aware of local produce and what it means then when they first started. They said that quality seemed to be the first issue with customers and then price.

Tellos Green Farm, Red Hook, New York

They have been at the market six years. Nestor Tello and his wife Alejandra raise 4,000 chickens on four acres of pasture. Being the skeptical person I am I asked Nestor if they really went out side. He said“Yes, they do. At noon I go and let them out of their barn and at dusk they all come back again. If you don’t believe me you can ask the farm manager because we are inspected.” I asked him what he fed them and he said “they eat what they can outside and then I also give them corn.”

He started at the Union Sq. Market where he met chefs who were coming to the markets to buy produce for their restaurants. Then, as chefs or other restaurant staff members moved to new restaurants or started their own restaurants, he maintained the connection and was able to develop new buyers through his old relationships. As the chefs changed restaurants they made arrangements for him to deliver to their restaurants. These restaurants pay $3.00 a dozen for his eggs which is a premium price for buying in bulk. At the market he sells his large eggs for $3.25. Nestor also has a CSA in the Brooklyn market and either he or his wife is at one of ten markets during the week. Nestor’s plans are for a totally biodynamic farm. The majority of his hens are Rhode Island Reds but he also has Araucana.

It was just by chance that during the week I stopped into an organic restaurant in SOHO for lunch and the waitress told me that their egg dishes were very popular and that a farmer delivered eggs to them weekly along with honey. It turned out that this farmer was Nestor.

The most repeated question I heard from customers while I was talking to market managers in the smaller markets was “how do the prices compare.” Compare to what I thought! The market managers merely said that there were a variety of prices and they should shop around but they would not be the same as from somewhere that could buy in bulk. According to the market managers price was the most often asked question and it came from people at all socioeconomic levels. They said that most of their customers were either middle class or those using WIC food coupons. They felt the WIC program was a wonderful situation for both the customer and the farmer. The farmers; I talked to all said that they had seen a surge in requests for organic produce and I noticed that when customers were told that there were farmers who had organic produce the question of price seemed to disappear in their eyes and body language.

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