We visited the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC to learn about seasonality, nutrition, cultivation, and how to support the local farmers and entrepreneurs of New York!
Open since 1976, the year-round farmers market consists of 200 local farmers, fishmongers, and bakers selling what they grow, raise, catch or bake themselves. The Greenmarket is known for working to conserve farmland and ensuring a continuing supply of fresh, local produce to New Yorkers.
WHAT PRODUCE IS CURRENTLY IN SEASON?
April showers bring May flowers, and in this case, a three-week delay for the produce that is typically ripe at this time of year. According to a farmer at Michisk’s Farm in New Jersey, “All produce is subject to the whim of Mother Nature.” Due to this year’s weather, peppers and eggplants, which are usually ripe by mid-to-late June, are not yet in their prime. Strawberries, most varieties of apples, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, zucchini, snap peas, and green beans, however, are all currently ripe and can be found in abundance at the Greenmarket.
WHY IS IT BENEFICIAL TO BUY LOCAL?
Compared to large commercial farms, local farms – like those who sell at the Greenmarket – require much more labor throughout the entirety of the farming process; from planting and maintaining the produce to picking and selling it. Consequently, the produce grown on these local farms receive more diligent monitoring than that of a commercial farm, allowing for small farmworkers to better gauge peak ripeness and harvest the produce accordingly. This means that consumers who buy local receive the freshest and most flavorful produce possible. Local farmers tend to use fewer chemicals and emit less pollution than larger commercial farms, therefore, when buying local, not only is it offering better quality products, it’s also doing less damage to the environment.
WHY DO SOME STANDS SELL THE SAME PRODUCE, BUT OF DIFFERENT QUALITY OR PRICE?
One farmer from Lucky Dog Farms in Hamden, New York, stressed that if a fruit or vegetable has poor appearance it does not always indicate bad quality, “Organic produce can be ugly. Farmers who abide by the organic standard cannot treat their produce with the chemicals that many commercial farms do, such as the chemicals that make those mass market strawberries look so ripe and juicy.” Further, the price and quality of the produce is heavily dependent on individual farms’ budgets; a farm further outside of the city will have a higher cost due to travel expenses, while a more local farm may have lower travel expenses but a higher cost of produce development, due to careful efforts to improve the health standard of the harvest.
ARE ALL OF THE FARMS AT THE GREENMARKET ORGANIC?
The products at the Union Square Greenmarket that are certified organic are those whose soil has been free of any organic production prohibited chemicals for at least seven years and who have paid an application fee to NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York), been inspected by the association, and been approved and certified organic. Due to the lengthy and expensive process of becoming certified, The products at the Union Square Greenmarket that are certified organic are those whose soil has been free of any organic production prohibited chemicals for at least seven years and who have paid an application fee to NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York), been inspected by the association, and been approved and certified organic. Due to the lengthy and expensive process of becoming certified, many smaller, family-run farms do not have the means to participate in this procedure. Many of the Greenmarket farms still abide by the requirements of NOFA and grow their harvest in accordance with NOFA. The farmer from Lucky Dogs Farm pointed out that, “It is too expensive to apply and maintain the NOFA certification for us, but that does not mean that we flood our products with chemicals. All of the produce we sell here is well-cared for, with the health of the consumer in mind.”
ARE ALL OF THE FARMS AT THE GREENMARKET ORGANIC?
In today’s health-conscious, information-based society, more often than not, it seems that organic is synonymous with healthy. To many consumers the phrase “organic” sits atop a shelf built with misconceptions and sometimes false promises. Organic, while respectively beneficial to consumers, the environment and farmers, does not strictly mean healthy in a conventional sense of nourishing the body. From a technical standpoint, in the state of New York, the word “organic” means a lengthy, often expensive certification processes in which farmers go through the following steps:
- Rid their soil of chemicals/pesticides prohibited through the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA) for seven consecutive years.
- After completing the soil cleanse, farmers pay an application to NOFA to be considered one of the organic farms in the state.
- NOFA meticulously inspects and considers all applicants, ultimately awarding the “organic” stamp of approval to those with sustainable, natural and quality assured farming practices.
The NOFA Organic Certification is expensive and time intensive; therefore, many small, family farms are unable or unwilling to participate. Their farming practices, though, are still environmentally and consumer conscious—just without NOFA’s official approval. At the Greenmarket, both organic and so-called conventional produce from local farms are fresh, in-season and delicious.
UNSOLD PRODUCE PRACTICES
We’ve all seen it: the gnarled carrots, “ugly” apples, and spinach leaves so misshaped that even Popeye would look twice. While those “ugly” fruits and vegetables are often the most natural and health fortified, is not always an Instagram-seeking buyers first choice, especially when compared to the mass-produced red and juicy berry staring them down. So then what happens to all of that unsold produce? According to a Greenmarket farmer, the undesired or unsold produce is typically discarded in one of three ways:
- Composting – New York City, and many other metropolitan areas, have several organizations that welcome composted material to repurpose into soil. Often times, this soil is then resold to the farmers, who grow their produce in the fertile, composted soil.
- Donations – Specific to the Greenmarket, whatever produce can be used in a timely manner is picked up by City Harvest Food Shelf. City Harvest facilitates the transportation and donation of the produce.
- Animal Feed – Farmers typically keep a supply of the undesirable-looking produce to repurpose into animal feed for chickens, cows, horses, and more.
Keep this information in mind for the next time you head to your local farmer’s market! You’ll be able to impress your friends and family by having a little extra knowledge about how the market works and how farmers source their goods.