Hudson Valley Farmers Markets
Dig into the region’s farmers markets, each with its own personality. PLUS: Find out which ones are open through winter
Fresh produce — and lots of people — at the Kingston Farmers Market
Photographs by Michael Nelson
Back in the day, farmers markets were a collection of tables — and maybe a few tents — stocked with corn, tomatoes, squash, and other familiar produce. In the last two decades, they’ve morphed into something much more. “Nowadays, markets are community gathering spots. They’re doing composting education, cooking demonstrations, relaxation techniques, massage, acupuncture, and all sorts of entertainment,” says Galena Ojiem, an administrator with the Farmers Market Federation (FMFNY). “They’re an experience for the whole family — you can show your kids different fruits, and talk to the person who produced your food.”
The most recent numbers from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicate that New York State farmers markets have ballooned from 235 in the year 2000 to 637 in 2013. FMFNY puts those numbers even higher — in the 650 range — and there could be many more out there flying under the radar. Winter markets are also growing fast, with 161 listed in the USDA directory.
“New York has the second largest amount of farmers markets in the nation behind California,” says Ojiem. “That means that, in terms of markets per capita, we are very likely the highest in the nation.”
Little wonder when you consider the benefits: fresh produce, superior taste, and eco-credibility, since you are reducing your carbon footprint by supporting local. And even the markets themselves are getting bigger and diversifying.
Here’s a sampling of the best local and worth-a-trip markets and what they’re known for:
KINGSTON FARMERS MARKET
Saturdays, May to November, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Wall Street, Old Stockade District
Mobile market: Tuesdays, 4-7 p.m. at Broadway & Henry St.; Thursdays, 4-7 p.m. at YMCA, 507 Broadway; www.kingstonfarmersmarket.org
About 30 vendors gather weekly on a shady block in the Stockade District against the backdrop of the Old Dutch Church courtyard. Some 1,500-2,000 patrons come to this regional market for its mix of conventional and organic produce, as well as its specialty fare: Hudson Valley wines (including dessert wines and roses), Belgian sugar waffles, and pretzel rolls, to name just a few. This year marks the debut of a music series: Catskill Mountain Music Together visits on the first Saturday of each month to entertain the kids with crafts and instruments. A partnership with Slow Food Hudson Valley means that cooking demos are also on the agenda. And this season, the Old Dutch Church is even organizing a craft fair. Look out for spin-offs: The market partnered with the YMCA Farm Project to hold a mini-market on Broadway, as well as a midtown mobile market at the corner of Broadway and Henry Street. “This market is all about community,” says Manager Lori Hylton. “We want everyone to know that we accept EBT cards — you can even use them to buy seedlings, so people can stretch their SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] money. Farmers accept WIC [Women With Infant Children] checks, too.”
RHINEBECK FARMERS MARKET
Sundays, Mother’s Day through Thanksgiving, 10 a.m-2 p.m.
Municipal Parking Lot at 61 East Market St., Rhinebeck; www.rhinebeckfarmersmarket.com
Locals, weekenders, and CIA and Bard students form a lively mix each Sunday at the Rhinebeck Farmers Market. Professional chefs and savvy home cooks alike patrol the site for fresh fish harvested off Montauk, duck, organic vegetables, and delicacies. Popular but not too sprawling at 30 vendors, its manageable size invites exploration: “We pay very close attention to creating a diverse and unique mix of products in the market that we feel showcases the very best of the Hudson Valley,” says Manager Cheryl Paff. Over its 21-year history, the market has consistently traded up vendors. “We’ve seen a big shift in support of local agriculture over the years,” says Paff. “For example, early on it was hard for the market to attract meat and cheese vendors because there wasn’t enough business to support them. Now, we have multiple cheese and meat vendors because the demand has grown. We’ve also seen farmers getting creative with the items that they grow or raise by turning them into products like tomato juice, capicola, smoked chicken. Also, we now have several farm wineries, breweries, and distilleries vending in the market.” Special events have drawn hordes: At last September’s market-wide tasting, the mushroom arancini dish made by Chef Wes Dier of The Local — which included oyster and shiitake mushrooms from Wiltbank Farm — was a popular choice.
WARWICK VALLEY FARMERS MARKET
Sundays, May 11 through November 23, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
South Street parking lot off Main Street; www.warwickvalleyfarmersmarket.org
When the town of Warwick lost its Grand Union in 1999, the Warwick Valley Farmers Market — which had been operating for six years at the time — took on a new, and even urgent, importance. It became not just a bonus feature of the historic town, but also a lifesaver for the residents who relied on having a food source within walking distance. That set off a growth trend for the market that continues to this day, with 30-plus vendors offering a tantalizing mix of goods, including maple products, pesto, fruit tarts, and free-range chickens and eggs. Of course, the headline news that sets this market apart is its variety of just-picked produce grown in the fabled local Black Dirt — the dark, fertile soil of this Orange County region that Eastern European immigrants began to farm in earnest in the 19th century. “It’s just like when you talk about terroir with wine,” says market Manager Penny Steyer. “You can have that with vegetables, too. A yellow onion grown in Black Dirt has a unique level of acidity and heat.” Root vegetables, lettuces, arugula, kale, black currants, and corn also flourish in this soil, and they’re all available here. With so much fabulous variety, a new supermarket never did move into the village after all.
HUDSON FARMERS MARKET
Saturdays, May 3 through November 22, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Municipal lot at Sixth & Columbia St. www.hudsonfarmersmarketny.com
In the summer of 1997, five vendors set up tables in a Hudson parking lot, offered a few vegetables for sale, and dubbed themselves the Hudson Farmers Market. Today, tables at this rain-or-shine, 28-vendor market groan with such sought-after fare as micro-greens, Asian vegetables, apricots, lamb and pork, live plants, and wool products. A snack-as-you-shop market (“You can’t get through it without eating a chocolate croissant or something,” says Amy Brown of Red Oak Farm, which specializes in organic veggies, dried herbs, and herbal teas), it offers an international array of prepared foods, including empanadas, kimchi, and sourdough bread. (One of our favorite bread-makers, Bonfiglio and Bread, originally was launched at the market.) You can even make a day of it with your kids and not worry that they’ll get bored. “We make a point of having activities for children, including a children’s tent with toys and books — and seats for parents — every week,” says Brown, the market’s Web wiz and social media guru. The market also hosts musical guests and community outreach, including The Eleanor, a historic boat renovation project.
PLEASANTVILLE FARMERS MARKET
Saturdays, May through November, 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Memorial Plaza, next to the Metro-North train station; www.pleasantvillefarmersmarket.org
Voted the number one farmers market in New York by the Washington, D.C.-based American Farmland Trust, this Westchester powerhouse takes a juried approach to its 55 vendors, ensuring that each one brings something unique to the table. “The mantra is diversity, quality, and balance,” says Steven Bates, executive director of market operations. Operating in the land of Whole Foods markets and high-end shops, this market competes with upscale artisan and specialty prepared foods — such as falafel, wines, breads, and cheeses made from locally grown produce — or artisans who source local foods. Chalkboards throughout the market list the events of the day: perhaps a nutritionist talk, a magician, Spanish classical guitar music, or a chef’s demo. Foot traffic swells to as many as 3,000 on a summer’s day. “About 60 percent are coming from neighboring Westchester communities and treat the market as a destination for special visits,” says Bates.
TROY WATERFRONT FARMERS MARKET
Saturdays, May through October, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. River St., downtown Troy; www.troymarket.org
Twilight Market: Fridays, June-September, 6-9 p.m. Broadway & Second Street
Here in the “Collar City” (so nicknamed because of the once-thriving shirt and textile industry), River Street is thronged each Saturday with a festival atmosphere of some 8,000 shoppers. Recently, the waterfront market expanded to an entire city block. The mix of items for sale is about 60 percent fresh produce and 40 percent producer-only vendors (which means they make their own products). The variety is tremendous: organic pasta, yogurt in returnable glass containers, gelato, French-style artisanal goat cheese — not to mention yarn, skin-care products, and even unlikely but wildly popular items like specialty marshmallows made with fruit purée. Because the market takes place in front of the shops on River Street, shoppers can double-dip, visiting both the stores and the stalls. Some River Street restaurants even add extra workers to accommodate shoppers looking for a sit-down meal.
Sweet Sue’s (not to be confused with the Phoenicia pancake emporium) is both a vendor and a brick-and-mortar café. After a few seasons of selling saccharine delights — handmade ice cream sandwiches, chocolate mousse cups, lemon curd shortbread — at the market, Sue Dunckel opened up her bistro two years ago. “People come in and have a lovely market brunch made from ingredients I bought that morning,” says Dunckel. “I always tell them to leave room for dessert,” which they’ll find outside at her street stall.
Many markets — including those in Rhinebeck, Pleasantville, Kingston, and Troy — offer a second act in winter. Check out the full list of winter markets at the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets Web site, www.agriculture.ny.gov/ap/communityfarmersmarkets.asp.
Local farms that grow produce year-round supply these venues with fresh winter crops such as leafy greens, root vegetables, and frozen vegetables and fruit. Click here for our list of local winter markets.