A Gathering Place for Health and Community at a Time of Uncertainty, Alive and Well
By Hannah Reimann
Like our beloved Village stores, Lifethyme Health Food Mart, Health and Harmony and Elm Wellness, The Union Square Greenmarket is treasured by those looking for organic and high-quality products and produce at this uncertain time. Cooking at home and take-out are our only alternatives now in a city that formerly had thousands of eat-in restaurants to choose from. It’s remarkable how simple things like buying good groceries can become a highlight of the week in times of crisis.
There was some confusion by my friends as to whether the Union Square Market was still open so I quickly walked over on a Wednesday in mid-March to see what was going on. I’m writing this largely to assure everyone that it is alive and well with new health and hygiene requirements faithfully adhered to, attracting traffic, like before.
Hand sanitizer stations can be found in the middle of the walkways and there are other new rules such as the absence of table cloths that are not coated with vinyl or plastic, an extra table or barricade separating purchaser from seller and rubber gloves worn by vendors. Perhaps facemasks will come next.
As always in Spring at the market, flowers and potted plants are resplendent, spinach and pea shoots are in season, several great bakeries are well-stocked and the fish, duck, fresh eggs, turkey and chicken are selling well. Some things are selling out early in the day, like greens. With the absence of restaurant buyers there is a subtly different feeling, a slightly less frantic pace, mirroring the absolute change of life in general in New York City.
I spoke with a number of farmers and sellers who lamented that the lack of business from restaurants has struck a major blow to their income. In some cases, vendors have lost 95% of business due to restaurants closing. However, all the vendors are grateful for anywhere to sell now, knowing so many people in other lines of work have lost their jobs. Everyone I spoke with intends to continue traveling to New York from hours away to sell their items for as long as the city permits them.
Barry and Carol Savoie of Savoie Organic Farms in Williamstown, New Jersey told me that COVID-19 has created a lot of uncertainty for them. “People will always buy food,” Barry said, “but the thing is…are we [farmers] going to have a place to sell it? No one pays me a salary to grow tomatoes or lettuce. Now, depending on where you’re at, people are not sure whether the markets will close. We’re thankful that New York is doing everything in its power to keep the markets open even if its very inconvenient like it is right now.” He also said that Sunday, March 15 was a “crazy madhouse” in Philadelphia’s Hen House Square market, “super busy because people wanted to stock up.” The couple made about $1000 more than they usually do that day. Collingsworth Farmer’s Market in South Jersey is one of the Savoie’s largest sources of revenue, but it doesn’t open until April, the projected peak of detected Corona Virus cases in New Jersey. “We don’t even know if there will be a Farmer’s Market in Collingsworth at that time,” Carol said. That huge market makes up half the couple’s revenue for the entire year. “It’s very disconcerting.”
At one bakery, a young seller from Brooklyn told me that it was his last day at the market simply because he doesn’t want to take the subway to Manhattan anymore, something echoed by a barista at a local café on my way home.
So there are changes at the market, but there is open air and the beauty of the food, the same friendly feeling and great quality I’ve always known. People are, refreshingly, avoiding crowding tables. Queues are well spaced if they even exist. There are the same wonderful apples, mushrooms, roses, anemones, fresh carrots, kimchee, organic wines and much more that I have loved for decades and depend on for my kitchen. I did wear my rubber gloves and kept my distance from everyone. It’s the least I can do to express my own gratitude and respect to this exceptional place.
For current info visit www.grownyc.com.
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