My family always seems to gravitate towards farmer's markets wherever we go. Even when my sister and I were growing up, when it was not as fashionable to be so painfully organic and sustainable and local as it is now, my mom dragged us to several different markets a week.
Even on family vacations we seem to seek them out. In fact, the underside of the mini-van once was sacrificed to the farm fresh gods on a particularly ill-fated attempt to pull off the highway for some fresh corn on our way up to Eureka one summer. Someone's bumper had fallen off (we were not in what you would call an urban area) on the highway off-ramp on the way to the corn, we ran over it and ended up cooling our heels in the parking lot of a mormon church while gas gushed out of our car and the local haz-mat team threw rice hulls over the "spill site".
Anyway, this history of mine practically demanded that I seek out a farmer's market immediately upon moving to New York. Thankfully the Union Square Greenmarket wasn't too hard to find. Now, on pretty much a weekly basis, I grab the market bag that Robin made for me years ago (by the way how cute is this? She sewed it out of oilcloth and bought some leather straps...which are literally the perfect length...from some woman on Craig's list...talk about resourceful), and make my way uptown to shop.
Late October/early November is not generally a time when people rhapsodize about local produce, but if you don't mind the cold, there's something pleasurably rustic about wandering around among apples and squash with the aroma of hot apple cider in the air. So to encourage you all to brave the cold and the battleship sized baby strollers, here's a guide of my favorite vendors at the market.
Ronnybrook Farm Dairy - This is no secret, you can buy the milk in Whole Foods for god's sake. But it's cheaper here at the stand ($2.25 for a quart of milk, assuming you bring your previous bottle back and get the $1 deposit back), the guys who sell it are sweet, plus they sell their amazing butter, yogurt, creme fraiche and kefir drinks here (although I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of their ice creams). Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Van Houten Farms - I discovered this one on a very rainy day on which I had forgotten an umbrella and took shelter under their tarp. I ended up talking with the guys for a while, and came away with five pounds of cucumbers. This one is great for basic veggies, like cauliflower, bell peppers, squash and cabbages. Prices are very reasonable. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Yuno's Farm - This is the Dean & Deluca of the Greenmarket. It's a little pricey, but everything is perfect, and they have the most interesting variety of vegetables, most of which are Asian. They are almost always cooking something I've never heard of for people to taste, so you're rarely buying something blind. I particularly love the shishito peppers, and the Japanese sweet potatoes (they taste exactly like chestnuts). Mondays and Fridays.
Locust Grove - Best apples in the market. Tons of varieties, and although they are on the more expensive end ($2-$3 per pound) they never disappoint. Plums in the summer are pretty good as well. Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Oakgrove Plantation - You have never seen so many different kinds of peppers in your life. Literally. I did not even know that chocolate habaneros or a hungarian wax peppers existed. This is the place to go if you need to gather ingredients for Bobby Flay's amazing Red Beef Chili. Also, the peaches in the summer are the best in the market. Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays.
The Cheerful Cherry - As the name would suggest, this place has phenomenal cherries in the summer, both sweet and sour. In the fall they turn their attention to concord grapes, and concord grape juice. This year is the first time I have ever tasted a real concord grape, and let me just tell you they are intensely flavorful, just a really interesting taste. The juice (which I believe is totally unadulterated by additives or sugar) is almost like syrup. Definitely worth a try. Fridays and Saturdays.
Flying Pigs Farm - Another descriptive name, this place sells all sorts of pork products. It is obscenely expensive, but the meat is beautiful. And if you need any unusual cuts this is the place to get them. Fridays and Saturdays.
Binder Farms - If you're in the mood to plant an herb box, this place should be your first stop. The most beautiful, and as it turns out, hardy, potted herbs you can find, in or out of the market. Saturdays.
The River Garden - Lovely flowers. Not the cheapest in the market, but huge selection and nice arrangements. Bouquets tend to cost between $7 and $10. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Cato Corner Farm - Amazing cheese. My standby is the Brigid's Abbey (mostly because it's the cheapest) but if I'm in the mood for a treat I'll have them recommend one of the other beautiful options. Haven't tried one yet that hasn't been a revelation. Saturdays, and first Wednesday of every month.
Knoll Crest Farms - I actually think that it's very important to buy fresh eggs as opposed to those from traditional supermarkets and bodegas. The difference in taste is extreme. And actually, thanks to Kenny Shopsin's book, now I know why. Some eggs that you find in stores have been in carefully controlled storage environments for up to ONE YEAR. Gross. So Knoll Crest is my go-to for eggs. Always reliably good, and the price is in the realm of reasonable ($3-$4 depending on type of egg). Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Just a side note: I don't know why, but eggs seem to be the most expensive thing in Union Square these days...I've seen them for up to $10 per dozen! Although I must say that last time my mom was in town she got me a dozen eggs that cost $8 and they were unbelievable. The yolks were literally orange, and they just tasted so rich. On a certain level you could kind of taste the grass that the chickens must have been feeding on. I have been searching for them ever since but sadly (or perhaps fortuitously), haven't found them.
Caradonna Farms - Excellent italian plums, and if you want solidly good apples at good prices, this is the place to go. Saturdays.
Paffenroth Gardens - This is where I go for almost all of my vegetables, particularly root vegetables. Not necessarily as sublime as Yuno's, but their prices are very reasonable, and they have an excellent selection. Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Hodgen's Farms - Much like Van Houten's, this is a great stand for fairly basic vegetables like cauliflower and tomatoes. At the moment they actually have some beautiful romesco cauliflowers (green and sort of alien looking...if you're mathematically inclined, I will tell you that it is basically a fractal). During the summer they have cheap and cheerful flowers as well. And the woman who runs it is very sweet. Saturdays and Wednesdays.
Philip's Farms - This stand is probably best known for its jams but I actually love it for the gorgeous flowers they sell on Wednesdays. Lately it's been giant bouquets of dahlias (only $7! and they are GIANT), but now they're moving more towards eucalyptus branches. Flowers on Wednesdays.
The Lower East Side Ecology Center - Now this last one is going to reveal me as a dirty hippie, but this organization comes to the market to collect compostable kitchen scraps, which they take to their facility to compost into rich soil. I realize it seems like a bit of a pain to bring your trash with you to Union Square, but I've really found that it's not. I leave a container by the sink that I drop peelings, old bread, old vegetables, etc. in, and then if I know I'm not going to make it to the market in the next few days, I just put the scraps in the refrigerator or freezer until I'm ready to go. It really has been amazing to see how little trash Paul and I generate since I've started doing this. And if you are potting any plants or just want to fertilize the ones you have, they sell soil for $1 per pound. And actually, to my great surprise, I saw their soil for sale in Whole Foods yesterday, which I guess means they are moving up in the world. Great to see.
So here you have it. The Greenmarket is a wonderful resource for us nature-starved New Yorkers, and provides a rare opportunity for us to connect with those who grow our food. Take advantage of it soon and often, as a fair number of the vendors take off a few months following either Thanksgiving or Christmas!