By a quick count, I’ve photographed markets in nearly three dozen cities in the U.S. and Europe; they’ve often appeared here on TravelGumbo. And yet the market I visit most often, and where my wife shops almost weekly, hasn’t found itself in front of my lens, or in a blog. Until now. These pictures are from two visits yesterday to the Brooklyn Greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza, on the edge of Prospect Park, one while the market was still setting up, and another when we returned to shop.
Spring greens and winter crops (including many colors of carrots) at Phillips Farms stand
The Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket is one of about 45 scattered around the city, sponsored by GrowNYC and the city. Their goal is to provide a place where regional small farmers and producers can meet city customers. It helps keep local agriculture viable, and it provides us city dwellers with a chance at food that’s not only very fresh, but includes varieties that don’t ship well over long distances. If you live in an area that grows tomatoes, think what local heirloom varieties are compared to the pale imitations in most supermarkets.
Of course, not everything in the market is for eating. It's been a long winter and flowers are welcome
Each of the markets has a personality of its own, depending on the neighborhoods around them, which vary from poor to wealthy. At Grand Army Plaza, there’s a bit of a mix, with well-off Park Slope on one side, but less well-off neighborhoods to the south and east, although some of those are gentrifying. The market is set right at the top of Prospect Park, full of joggers, skaters, cyclists, dog-walkers and just-plain park users…all that’s part of this market’s aura. And the market has begun to attract its craftspeople to the adjacent sidewalks. Quite a mix!
Why Greenmarkets matter: When I was a child in the Bronx sixty-some years ago, there were still “truck farmers” in New York City, and just adjacent; they grew vegetables for sale mostly in local stores and from the back of the pickup trucks that stopped on neighborhood streets. Mr. Simonetti stopped near us; in my wife’s neighborhood in the Rockaways, there were others.
The Grand Army Plaza market caters to a fairly eclectic mix, as the signs indicate
They played an important role besides convenience; they often served as a bridge between cultures, exposing first- and second-generation communities to new-to-them produce of other cultures. We can trace family dishes that are now part of our food, but not part of our ethnic heritage, that came to us this way.
Fresh fish from Long Island gets some of the longest lines at the market
But by thirty years ago, they were gone, and New York had lost whatever past history it had of public markets. The few that existed were mostly ones that had been created in the 1920s and 30s to get pushcart vendors off the streets. And then Barry Benepe,an urban planner whose family were Maryland farmers, got the idea of putting the farmers and the eaters together. With some foundation help, the first market opened in 1976, then a couple more, and by 1989, we got ours at Grand Army Plaza. HERE's an interesting interview with him.
Aside from the fresh farm produce, which comes from farms in about a 100-mile radius, there are dairy producers such as Ronnybrook, below, who bottle milk and other products on the farm; Cato Corner, an artisan cheese producer. Honey in profusion, and a variety of pickles can be found.
And there are vendors selling wonderful meat of all kinds (albeit much of it as truly "boutique" prices).
And bread. One of my favorite parts of any market. I think the sign on the back of the truck above was written with me in mind. There are three regular bread stands at Grand Army Plaza, each with a few things the others don't have, and lots of tempting buns and pies as well. One of the vendors, Bread Alone, came to the city as a Greenmarket vendor, and has now grown to serve stores as well. That's also true for Ronnybrook.
Quite aside from the changes the Greenmarkets have made in family eating, they've also had an effect on the New York restaurant scene, with many chefs shopping where possible in the markets, and ordering from market farmers. The Union Square market in Manhattan, which operates four days a week, has a big restaurant clientele.
A farmer who has become his own brand, Ray Bradley sells at a number of the markets and has added more and more products to the mix.
Sweet and sour: Pickles above, honey and preserves below
Mushrooms, herbs and sprouts are popular choices also. The sign with the shoots is typical in that department, where many of us are learning about foods we never met, just as from the old trucks. Seeds as well as seedlings are also available.
At the crafts market that's developing at the edge, a stroller serves as a wagon for a flat of Greenmarket flower, and a gathering of dogs keeps itself busy (or not) while their owners chat.
Choosing just the right steak for a spring barbecue.
For more TravelGumbo blogs about markets, click HERE
For more on New York, click HERE