By B. A. Nilsson
mind the grocery stores; when you want fresh produce, you
want farm-fresh produce
With morning twilight comes a thunderous chorus of sparrows
greeting the daylight; by the time the sun crests the horizon
and the time approaches 5:30, Tim Lane already is in his muggy,
misty greenhouses harvesting lettuce. His 60 acres sprawl
atop a ridge near the western end of Glen, a Montgomery County
town that once thrived as an agricultural center but has seen
a drastic drop in farming. What remain are a few large dairy
operations, a recent influx of the Amish, and independent
entrepreneurs like Lane.
He has only a few hours before it will be time to leave for
the Empire Plaza Farmers’ Market in Albany. The market takes
place from 10 to 2 every Wednesday and Friday from May through
October, but vendors are invited only to one or the other.
Lane attends the Wednesday sessions, and this particular Wednesday
he’s afraid he’ll be caught short of lettuce.
why I’m only doing one market a week right now,” he explains
as he walks by the large pink rafts of lettuce floating in
hydroponic baths. “And lately it’s been so hot that I haven’t
even been able to get enough for that one market and my regular
The greens change as the season progresses. Right now he’s
growing a mix of oak leaf lettuce including the endive-like
Tango and the sweeter Red Salad Bowl. There’s also deep-reddish
Oscarde, a green version called Galisse and a romaine-bibb
cross called Concept.
Completing the blend is a pair of summer crisp varieties:
Magenta and Loma, the latter sporting a brilliant green leaf
with jagged edges.
He tears off a leaf to inspect it. “We’ve had a terrible aphid
problem lately,” he explains. “Look. You can see them.” A
couple of brownish bumps, no bigger than the commas bracketing
this phrase, dot the leaf. “I’m not allowed to wash the lettuce.
If I did that, I’d be considered a food processor and I’d
need a special license for it. So I have to tell my customers
to make sure that they wash the leaves.”
The issue of regulations, while no doubt grounded in some
onetime very real needs, is something that dogs the market
purveyors. Later I’ll meet a vendor who keeps both bees and
hens, but is allowed to sell only honey, not eggs. “The law
says I can’t sell anything here that would have to be refrigerated,”
he tells me, but (because I’m a fellow henkeeper) we both
know that fresh eggs easily can endure a room-temperate afternoon.
Looking at younger lettuce plugs, Lane points out a good sign:
ladybug larvae. “Ladybugs are natural predators of aphids.
I try to keep my vegetables as organic as possible, so I’m
not spraying any chemicals on the lettuce.”
Cucumbers are posing a tougher challenge. Last year, he lost
most of his crop to the insidious cucumber beetle, a tiny
yellow-and-black-striped critter cute enough to have come
out of a cartoon. Right now the garden patch—cukes are grown
in the open air with a drip-tape irrigation—sports a small
yellow cup beside each plant. “The cups have oil in them,”
Lane tells me. “They’re supposed to fool the bugs into thinking
they’re cucumber blossoms, so the bugs crawl into the cups
and the oil keeps them from getting out while they drown.”
Indeed, each cup has several such trophies floating within.
“But during a recent windstorm the oil got blown all over
the leaves of the plants, and you can see where it burned
them once the sun came out. These plants I’m probably going
to have to spray.”
Each crop, which includes tomatoes, peppers and lots and lots
of herbs, is a unique battlefield, with both natural predators
and the crop’s own diseases arrayed against it. But embracing
the world of pesticides makes no sense to Lane. “We’re growing
this so that we can eat healthy things,” he says. “Otherwise,
what’s the point?”
Lane’s first farmwork was hay baling at the age of 13. “I
graduated from college in 1981, and for my first year of professional
farming I lost $300 on 12 acres of buckwheat. In ’82, I planted
my first crop of vegetables, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
I must be insane.”
As the rising sun burns off the morning mists, the greenhouse
temperature climbs. Lane is joined by his wife and teenage
daughter; his father and a couple of friends soon add their
hands to the harvest.
The greenhouse aisle is flanked by long plastic tubs in which
float flat squares of Styrofoam, each about 6 feet by 6 feet.
The squares are perforated with 2-inch holes in which sit
plastic cylindrical baskets with netted sides and bottoms.
Lettuce seeds are started in these baskets in an adjoining
greenhouse, then moved to the tubs as the roots develop. He
seeds six flats each week, and harvest occurs about six weeks
after planting. This system allows him to produce lettuce
every month of the year.
Soon the workers settle into a system as the greens are cut,
weighed and bagged. A coffee pot works almost as hard as they
do to keep with demand; conversation is steady, erupting into
Each bag contains a half-pound of mixed lettuce and will sell
for $3, or two for $5. Although Tim’s springtime production
was running at about 280 bags a week, the combination of heat
(which drove the plants to molt) and aphids has diminished
his output. “I keep trying to fine-tune it,” he explains.
“This is my fourth year of raising lettuce in baths like this,
but I’ve been experimenting with hydroponics for a long time.”
The net pots, for instance, are new this year, as are the
many airstones that percolate the baths with oxygen.
By 9, we’re loading Lane’s red van with white plastic tubs
of the bagged greens. He and his father built a special insert
for the van, a box lined with Styrofoam and cooled with bagged
ice. Around the box room to tuck an awning that fits against
the back of the van as well as the folding table from which
Lane sells his product.
There’s an access road near the Legislative Office Building
that allows the vendors to back their vehicles to the north
end of the plaza. It’s a hot but windy day, too windy for
the awning, too windy for the tents that others have brought.
As Lane is getting ready, the chef-owner of the 21 Elk Street
Café stops by for a few bags of lettuce. “Are you going to
have spinach again soon?” he asks. “My customers loved that
spinach.” Tim promises a fresh supply in a couple of weeks.
Many of Lane’s customers are regulars, glad to see him. “The
heat has made the lettuce lose a little color,” he explains
again and again. “Anything you don’t like, I’ll take it back.”
It’s clear that nobody is about to return any of the precious
The dozen vendors include some like Larry Ovsanikow, who offers
a varied spread of flowers, fruits and vegetables. Flats of
strawberries and nice heads of broccoli nestle near tomato
plants. Ovsanikow is a third-generation farmer who has been
working this market for all 25 years of its existence. “I
try to make a living at it,” he declares gruffly.
Then there are the niche vendors, like Chaz Mantel of Greenfield
Center, who has a line of gourmet salad dressings as well
as honey from his own apiary, and Hillsdale-based Lisa Gintly,
selling homemade cookies in her first year at the market,
much of her sales success the direct result of the toothsome
samples she provides.
Throughout the market hours, a stream of ID-necklaced state
workers passes, pausing at the various tables to pick up something
to go into a fresher-than-usual dinner. Many of them greet
Lane by name, and he knows as they approach how much of his
lettuce or herbs will be requested.
They know that buying from a local farmer is more than simply
supporting the local economy. When you bite into a crisp,
new leaf, and taste the astonishing blend of bitter and sweet,
the wide-awake flavor that grabs every part of the palate,
you know there’s no going back to store-bought. However much
the supermarkets tout their produce, the fact is—unless they’re
buying locally—it spent days, maybe weeks on its journey from
farm to market.
Not here. What you munch on at 6 o’clock at night was parted
from its roots at 6 in the morning. “I tell my customers that
it’s best to grow their own vegetables in their own gardens,”
says Tim. “Second best is to buy them from me.”
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Cappiello Festa Italiana takes place this
weekend (Friday-Sunday, June 24-26) in Schenectady’s
Central Park. It’s an annual celebration of Italian
culture with food, children’s activities, bocce,
cooking and wine demonstrations, casino games,
children’s rides, strolling mandolinist and vocal
musicians, several bands and dance groups. Featured
entertainment is by the Tuscan Duo at 8 PM Saturday
and tenor Michael Amante at 7 PM Sunday. Admission
is free. For more info, check out www.festa-italiana.com,
or call 372-5656. . . . The Van Dyck Restaurant
(237 Union Street, Schenectady) begins brewing
beer again this week. The facility was part of
the Van Dyck’s extensive refurbishment eight years
ago and welcomes back brewmaster Jason Furman,
who was part of the original crew. He’s promising
to start off with an amber ale, an India Pale
Ale, a traditional German wheat beer and a raspberry
wheat beer; the second week of brewing will produce
the Van Dyck’s “Coal Porter,” a classic pilsner,
the popular “Edison Electric Light” and a traditional
English bitter. Furman will be brewing in the
evenings, when customers can watch him at work.
For more information, call the restaurant at 381-1111.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
(e-mail food@banils son.com).
want your feedback
you eaten at any
recently reviewed restaurants?
Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...
address not required to submit your feedback, but required to
be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.
very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..