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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

The Farmer in Winter

A handful of area farmers markets move inside to continue offering fresh, local food in the colder months

By B. A. Nilsson

It’s more than gourds and collard greens. Winter produce is tough-skinned stuff, and those spaceship-like spears of Brussels sprouts are perhaps the most emblematic. Eating these is a great way to celebrate the season, but you’ll find much more than cold-weather comestibles at farmers markets that choose to run through the winter.

These markets are an impressive phenomenon. Offering consumers fresh, locally grown items, they also present the growers themselves, as well as bakers, cheesemakers and craftspeople. Nothing beats the ability to admire a loaf of bread while learning about its provenance. There’s a wonderful sense of community that comes in the act of shopping for locally grown and prepared food.

The number of local farmers markets has exploded, giving us an unprecedented warm-weather bounty. I’m sure you’ve seen them: booth after booth of vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, honey and milk, along with artisan products like crafts, sauces, jam, clothing and anything made by hand.

Carrying such an operation into the winter requires a more hospitable space, and a handful of such spaces now accommodate the area’s year-round markets. Troy’s market has grown to become the area’s standard-setter, and its winter home in the Uncle Sam Atrium offers four hours of cheerful bustle.

“It’s incredibly wonderful to have this,” says Suzi Place of Witenagemot Farm in Schaghticoke. She and her husband Arthur bring fruit and vegetables, cornmeal, beans and even popcorn to Troy on Saturdays and to the Schenectady Greenmarket on Sundays. “Everybody who participates is either growing what they bring locally, or making it themselves. You can’t just be a reseller.”

Along with vegetables like kale, collards, broccoli, parsnips, turnips, and rutabaga, other seasonal favorites are greenhouse lettuce (and other greens), tomatoes, mushrooms and at least ten varieties of potato.

“Let me walk through the aisles in my mind,” says Place. “There’s honey, milk, lots of different meat: bacon, other pork products, beef, lamb, chicken. There’s locally milled flour. We have three wine vendors, one of whom makes an excellent sparkling wine.”

The Troy market features prepared food as well, including sandwiches, soups, Jamaican fare from the city’s First Choice Caribbean Restaurant, and Indian food from Thunder Mountain Curry. And you can enjoy live music as you visit the vendors.

There’s live music in Schenectady as well. “We have a group playing on a stage upstairs,” says Cheryl Nechamen, “and downstairs there’s a jam session. The market takes place in Robb Alley, which is alongside the Proctor’s Arcade, and we’re able to use two levels there.” Nechamen is one of the principal organizers of the market and a tireless promoter of local food. “Our first day, which was Nov. 2, we counted 1,800 people. The second week, our vendors brought more and they sold out earlier.”

Schenectady’s market leans more toward food than crafts, says Nechamen. “We have tomatoes from Underwood Greenhouse, which grows them hydroponically. Sweet Tree Farm raises grass-fed beef, as does Mariaville Angus, which also supplies other types of meat.” The market runs from 10 AM to 2 PM on Sundays, giving Troy’s Saturday vendors another stop on the circuit. Both markets have Web sites (addresses are listed below) that describe who supplies what.

“We go to both markets,” says Jody Somers of Dancing Ewe Farm, “and we’re also at the Union Square Market in Manhattan on Fridays.” Somers handcrafts Tuscan-style cheese, including pecorino, caciotta and a ricotta so fresh and rich that’s it the cheese of choice for Mario Batali’s Manhattan restaurants. “Farmers markets are a nice opportunity to bring to retail a product that’s typically sold through a middleman,” says Somers. “And it’s an opportunity to meet the people who buy your product. Also, let’s face it, it’s a cash infusion into the pocket.”

Another summer market that moves indoors for the winter is in Saratoga. “We’ve been doing it year-round for seven years now,” says Liza Porter, of Homestead Artisans Enterprises. “Four years ago we found our current site in the Salvation Army building, about a block away from Borders Bookstore.” Porter makes eleven kinds of cheese herself from cow and goat milk. The market has greenhouse lettuce, spinach, carrots, potatoes, onions. Also meat, cheese, baked goods, apples, honey, jam and holiday crafts through Christmas.

Albany’s biggest market, at the Empire State Plaza, moves underground to the Plaza Concourse, with a row of vendors lining the hallway Wednesdays from 10 AM to 2 PM.

“I don’t want to overstress what we do at our market,” says Annette Van Anker. She’s speaking of the First United Methodist Church Farmers Market in Delmar, which runs Tuesday afternoons through Nov. 25. “We’re a smaller market, but we offer barbecued chicken and baked goods in addition to cool-season vegetables and tree fruits.”

The Cohoes Winter Farmers Market is one of several enterprises you’ll find at the Harmony House Marketplace. Running on Fridays through Dec. 19, it offers eggs, meat, cheese, jam, apples, fudge, seasonal produce and a host of crafts.

Several different Web sites try to collect information about these markets, although I discovered that many of the listings were very out of date. The markets themselves are typically organized by one or another of the vendors, so somebody who’s busy working the barn or field isn’t always easy to reach by phone. This listing should get you through the winter, though, and as the weather warms, look for an even wider range of outdoor markets to blossom.

Winter 2008-2009 Farmers Markets

Cohoes Winter Farmers Market

Harmony House Marketplace

188 Remsen Street, Cohoes

Friday 4:30-7:30 through Dec 19

 

Empire State Plaza Farmers Market

Empire State Plaza Concourse, Albany

Wednesday 10-2

ogs.state.ny.us/visiting/cultural/events/ farmersmarket.pdf

 

First United Methodist Church Farmers Market

428 Kenwood Ave., Delmar

Tuesday 2:30-6 through Nov 25

 

Saratoga Winter Farmers Market

Salvation Army Building

27 Woodlawn Ave., Saratoga Springs

Saturday 9-1

saratogafarmersmarket.org

 

Schenectady Greenmarket Farmers Market

Robb Alley, Proctor’s Arcade

432 State St., Schenectady

Sunday 10-2

schenectadygreenmarket.org

 

Troy Waterfront Winter Market

Uncle Sam Atrium

4th St. and Grand Ave., Troy

Saturday 10-2

troymarket.org

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Red Thread Confections is a Slingerlands-based candy maker whose wares are featured at Java Jazz Café; it’s also just been chosen to participate in this year’s American Express Holiday Wishlist Guide. Cardholders will be deluged with appropriate documentation, and regular customers are invited to use coupon code RTCNEWS002 for a 15-percent discount. You’ll find the candies at redthreadconfections.com. . . . Heat up your night with tapas and salsa. In this case, the latter refers to the dance, which will be taught at El Platano (198 First St., Troy) at 6 or 8:30 PM on Nov. 10. Featured eats are Spanish tapas by chef Jackie Baldwin, with a menu including shrimp la plancha, grilled mini chorizos, jamon serrano, boquerones (fresh anchovies), bacon-wrapped dates, artichokes jerez, garbanzo beans and spinach, and more. El Platano’s chef Pedro will be concocting some appropriate beverages. It’s $25 per person, and you need to make reservation in advance at the restaurant or by calling 272-3011. While you’re at, make a reservation for Pedro’s Gingerbread House Workshop on Nov. 24, where attendees will be shown the process of producing a gingerbread house and will take home their very own self- decorated unit. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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