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Tales of Hospitality: How Greenmarket Saved t

By Marcel Van Ooyen, GrowNYC

May 22, 2014

Back in the late 70?s and early 80?s, when the Union Square Greenmarket was still in its naissance, New Yorkers were just beginning to get acquainted with locally grown food.

Some of the first to latch on to the superior flavor and quality of the products, which were being brought in by the market’s expanding network of regional farmers, were city chefs and restaurateurs, Jean Georges Vongerichten and Danny Meyer. These restaurateurs found endless inspiration for their menus a midst the farm-stands. As their own businesses grew, so too did Greenmarket. From just twelve farmers on opening day in 1976, we’ve expanded to more than fifty sites across all five boroughs of the city. Over 230 producers now participate in the program, all hailing from within about 200 miles of the city.

Back when it began, the direct-to-customer sales opportunity that Greenmarket provides farmers was viewed as a radical idea. The “heartbreak of wholesale” was a common tale that was bringing down generations-old farms around the Northeast, yet it was the only option producers had to move product. Offering mere pennies on the dollar, distributors were the ones who earned the profit when it came to produce. But those who took a chance to come down to the city to sell their crops in an empty lot on E. 59th Street were blown away by customer response from day one. Ron Binaghi, Jr. of Stokes Farm recalled being at Greenmarket selling with his father and selling out early before the day ended. At the time, his father famously remarked, “What? Is there a famine in New York City?” That high demand is what has kept Stokes Farm coming back to sell at Greenmarket ever since.

More than a few producers will tell you Greenmarket saved the family farm, and as the older generation looks toward retirement, the next generation is stepping in to take over and figure out how to keep the business growing. They are turning to social media for advertising and creating value-added products like hard cider to stay ahead of the curve in a marketplace that has become obsessed with local food. Leading that charge are the legions of chefs who don their whites while shopping at farm-stands early in the morning. When sourcing ingredients from the market, every herb, vegetable and piece of fruit has a name and a face attached to it. It’s these stories that chefs can’t wait to pass along to their diners. Over the years, chefs have forged strong relationships with the farmers they buy from. For instance, chefs may get tips on which crops will be ripe in weeks to come and sometimes may even receive rare seeds from their farmers. This is as close as many New Yorkers can get to having a backyard garden in the urban jungle.

In recent years, the market has gotten even closer to the kitchen door. GrowNYC has come full circle, now offering its own wholesale program. Catering to high-end restaurants and institutional buyers alike, Greenmarket Co., a mission-driven distribution service, is able to connect more chefs than ever with the volume of products that are grown right here in our region. Orders can be placed year-round. If you’re interested in getting your hands in the dirt, we can help with that as well. Our Greenmarket Partners consulting firm is now available to assist you in creating your very own “farm garden”!

For more information about wholesale delivery to your business or organization, contact Brian Goldblatt, Sales Manager, Greenmarket Co.,bgoldblatt@grownyc.org. For information on GrowNYC Partners, contact executive director, Marcel Van Ooyen, mvanooyen@grownyc.org.


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