By Barry Benepe
Writing in the September 2017 issue of WestView, Robert Widmann bemoans the loss of food markets in the West Village. (See the article entitled “Market-less in the Village.”) Naming several, Widmann concludes, “Now they are all gone.” Actually, we have many serving the West Village: D’Agostino, Integral Yoga, Chelsea Market, Whole Foods, Citarella, Gristedes, and Brooklyn Fare. More importantly, the West Village is one of 24 Manhattan neighborhoods served by Greenmarket, a farmers market program founded in 1976 by the nonprofit Council on the Environment of NYC, now known as GrowNYC. This open-air farmers market has been operating every Saturday at Abingdon Square for over 20 years.
Even in the depths of winter, one can find foods there grown and produced in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. On a recent snow-blown Saturday, there were nine farmers, fishermen, and bakers at the farmers market. I started my shopping with Prospect Hill Farm, which travels 1.5 hours from Milton, New York, with over 50 varieties of apples, cider, jams, and baked products. This year, Pam Clarke is celebrating the 200th anniversary of her family’s ownership of the farm.
Further down the sidewalk was David Siegel, owner of Muddy Farm, where he grows vegetables on three of the 8.5 acres of his organic soils. On this December day, he had tender, fresh greens, carrots, several varieties of potatoes—including nicola, amorosa, amey, russet, and blue—butternut and spaghetti squash, watermelon radish, curly kale, shitake mushrooms, and wild clover honey. David rises as early as 1:00 a.m. to load his truck and drive 2.5 hours to NYC.
Next to David is DiPaola Turkey Farm, which raises over 8,000 turkeys and displays a broad range of 15 cuts, including hot and sweet sausage; ground dark and white breast meat; breakfast patties; boneless breast, thigh, and neck cuts; wings; giblets; and sweet Italian sausage. Next to DiPaola Is Ole’ Mother Hubbert, who travels 75 miles from Westtown, New York to offer eggs, butter, yogurt, milk, chocolate milk, eggnog, and muffins.
At the north end of the market, customers line up to purchase the many varieties of fish and seafood caught by Phil Carlin off Riverhead, Long Island, including: lobster, little neck clams, squid, blue fish, mackerel, flounder, hake, striped bass, and tuna. Carlin also sells wild fish salad.
I found shoppers to be enthusiastic because they could find everything they needed to make meals locally—from apples to baked goods to cheese to vegetables, meats, and fish. Mimi said, “I have been coming every week from Westbeth for over 14 years. It’s terrific.”
Greenmarket currently serves over 200 small farms in the tri-state region, encompassing over 38,000 acres, chiefly along the Great Valley. The land stretches from southern New Jersey and the Passaic Valley through Pennsylvania into the Wallkill and Hudson Valleys before turning west along the Mohawk Valley to the Finger Lakes, which is where much of our wine, grapes, cheese, conifer trees, and other farm products originate.
The farmers bring home some 2 to 2.5 million hard-earned dollars to their families as well as to about 3,200 full- and part-time workers, both from the City stands and on the farm. Through its Beginning Farmer training program, Greenmarket has graduated 320 young full- and part-time farmers, many recent immigrants, and provided technical assistance to 120 farmers, resulting in improved production and sales. Greenmarket also supports 17 Youth Markets, providing financial and marketing skills to local youth who connect their local communities with farm-grown fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products. Greenmarket has helped to turn what may have once been a food desert into a food paradise.
Barry Benepe grew up working his family’s farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He earned a degree in Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and became an urban planner. In 1976, Benepe co-founded the Greenmarket farmers market program, which he ran for 22 years.