Reporter’s Notebook: 20 Years of Fresh Food

I like doing the occasional “Reporter’s Notebook” because I write about things that are important to me. I even get to be part of the story, a big no-no in regular news reporting.

When the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market was established 20 years ago, I volunteered as its first manager, a position I held for three years.

The job proved personally satisfying. I’d been living here fewer than four years and part of me missed the rich farmland of Essex County, Ontario, and the many farmers I knew there. CSFM helped me reconnect with farmers and their farms. I also got to know my community while contributing in a meaningful way. All these years later, my visits to the market on Saturday mornings to drop off The Current still spark a tinge of pride for having helped get it off the ground. I also shop there.

For consumers, CSFM is about easy access to fresh, seasonal, local foods and the value-added food products its vendors offer.

For vendors, it’s about crucial economic support for small farms in the Hudson Valley that compete for survival against corporate and factory farms across the U.S., as well as imports ranging from Peruvian asparagus and Chinese garlic to Mexican strawberries.

Farmers markets are also about high-quality food. I remember in Year One someone saying she could buy an apple pie cheaper at Walmart.

“True,” I said, “But you’ll be eating a Walmart apple pie, with apples from Washington state.”

She didn’t get it; she had never bought a CSFM apple pie.

That was not unusual. Twenty years ago, and today, few people are aware of where their food comes from or how and when it’s produced. It just magically appears on a supermarket shelf.

Today’s CSFM customers are food-savvy, but in the market’s early years, it wasn’t unusual to hear someone ask why sweet corn and tomatoes were nowhere to be seen in May. And I clearly recall being asked which vendor sold bananas.

Elizabeth Ryan, an original CSFM vendor and owner of Breezy Hill Orchard, speaks of schoolchildren visiting her farm who are grossed out to learn those famous nuggets come from a chicken.

Not that I was a walking encyclopedia of agricultural knowledge. To me, garlic was just garlic, until Ruth Nosonowitz, then a market vendor, showed me the eight types of garlic she grew. She also taught me that garlic greens, or “scapes,” are delicious when sauteed. And who knew elephant garlic isn’t garlic? It’s a leek.

CSFM’s opening day in 2003 was humble but appreciated. The previous year, the Grand Union had burned to the ground in a spectacular blaze. The fire shocked residents; overnight they had no grocery store. (It was later replaced by Foodtown.)

Anthony Phillips, then the mayor of Cold Spring, supported starting a farmers market in the parking lot of the abandoned Butterfield Hospital, with the village as sponsor. It would only be one day a week, but CSFM offered a ray of hope.

There were four vendors that first day, including Four Winds Farm, operated by Jay and Polly Armour, and Breezy Hill Orchard.

After moving to The Nest daycare lot for several seasons, CSFM relocated to its home at Boscobel. One of more than 400 farmers markets across New York, it now has as many as 35 vendors during peak season, proof that an organization can grow, not just bigger, but substantially better.

Back in my day, CSFM business was often conducted by three people over a beer at a local pub. Partly my doing, no doubt.

Now, the market is managed by a 13-member volunteer board, is a registered nonprofit and has expanded its mission to include educational programming.

Shelley Boris, owner of Dolly’s Restaurant on Garrison’s Landing, has served on the CSFM board since the beginning, including as chair, and now heads the vendor committee.

“We have more choice for our shoppers now,” she told me. “We have a few produce, meat and egg vendors, not just one of each like in the old days.”

The customer base has grown along with the number of vendors.

Jay Armour, whose heirloom tomatoes are highly sought, has seen that growth. Now, he says, business can be just as good on a rainy day as a sunny day, something few markets can claim.

He also thinks farmers markets have individual personalities, commenting that in Woodstock, shoppers tend to have a distinctive “Woodstock” look.

“Not too many hippies at the Cold Spring market,” Armour said with a laugh. “It has loyal shoppers, people who appreciate good food.”

Ryan agrees that CSFM has a solid clientele. “The Cold Spring community is very supportive and appreciates the importance of keeping that market,” she said. “And we need the income from local markets; they’re important for keeping our farms in business.”

Residents can further support CSFM farmers while celebrating the market’s roots. Cheers to 20 Years, this year’s annual benefit dinner, is scheduled for Sunday (May 7) at the Garrison Institute. Details are at Summer hours for the market — 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. — begin on Saturday (May 6).

Helping CSFM in its early years was often fun. One Saturday, when I was out on Route 9, collecting the market’s signs, a car came to a screeching halt, tires smoking. The driver stuck his head out the window and yelled: “Hey, aren’t you Jerry Garcia?”

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