When I was a kid in Syracuse, there was but one farmer’s market. It was (and still is) a flea market, warehouse for restaurants, farmer’s market and plant wholesale outlet, all in one packed, crazy, fun place.
My father dragged me there every Saturday. Once, a farmer reached under his table and pulled out a surprise: a tiny grey kitten. My father paused, considered, then let me take the kitten home. It was such a 70’s moment – no discussion between parents, no planning, just…a kitten. It was the defining happy moment of my 7th year.
I still have warm feelings when I go to a farmer’s market, still hope for surprises at each vendor’s table, still look for comfort and joy among the lettuce and fruit. And it’s there. Maybe not so much in kittens being handed out, but in finding fruit when you’ve waited six long, cold months for it. Or in the warm smile of a farmer as you exclaim over his beautiful red radishes. Or in the sweet, buttery bite of a pastry, filled with almonds and sugar.
As a grown up and someone who cooks and feeds people and writes about food for a living, the farmer’s market is an important part of my life. I go regularly for sustenance, inspiration, research, and maybe, most importantly, for community. For a bit of warmth, consistency and safety in a world that often does not feel like any of those things. For the feeling of being a girl, with the unexpected gift of a soft, warm kitten.
On the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, I had two very young children. My husband was working out of town and I went to meet a friend for coffee. The kids would play; we would chat. You know, a typical day and playdate.
But you also know it wasn’t a typical day. Upon hearing the news, we cut the date short, each terrified and wanting to be home. I put my children in bed for naps. I wiped the counters in my kitchen. I turned the TV on, then off, then on again. I wiped my counters again. I called my husband, my sister, my father. I turned the TV off. There was nothing to do, nothing that would make anything better it seemed, ever again.
And then it was four o’clock. Four o’clock on a Tuesday. It was time for the Tuesday Delmar Farmer’s Market. I packed children into the stroller and prepared to walk over. I wondered as I tied on shoes and fastened buttons on sweaters, would the farmer’s market be there? Would life be going on as usual? I did not know.
Life was indeed going on at the farmer’s market. Vendors, tables, tomatoes, apples, the usual. But it wasn’t the usual on that day. As I approached, it looked like the Tuesday market I knew. Cars filled the lot and people in work clothes shopped for dinner: roasted chicken and salad, bags of apples and cookies for dessert. But the farmer’s market was different on that day. It was completely quiet. There was no laughter, no vendor voices calling out to each other. It was just, quiet. A woman walked past, her bag filled with vegetables and tears rolling down her face. It was a sad scene.
I went about my business as I did every other Tuesday. I bought a bag of apples and gave one to my daughter. She munched it, eating the core, stem and all, just as she always did. I filled my basket with tomatoes, a loaf of bread, cheese. I kept it to good, simple things.
We walked through that market and I looked to the other shoppers and vendors for a little comfort on that day, a small bit of confirmation that things were going to be okay. And though things were not okay, things were definitely not alright, and I didn’t know if things would ever be exactly alright, ever again – yes, that’s how scared everyone was – there was still comfort to be found at the farmer’s market.
So much had changed on that day. So much had changed in just a few hours, and though there was no way to understand it, and perhaps we never would, there was still a farmer’s market. There were baskets filled with tomatoes. There were people with shopping bags focused on the mundane task of feeding their families and vendors with warm smiles. Life carried on, despite disaster and tragedy beyond anything we ever knew.
I think I went to the market that day looking for the kind of comfort I had found when I was seven, when I took home a little kitten with soft grey fur. That kind of feeling was not to be found on that day, and not for many, many days after. But, I did find something there. I found the familiar faces of the farmers and the producers I knew. They were as sad and scared as I, but still engaged in the same, ritual tasks that they had done just the week before any of this had happened. I found food for my family, yes, but also a reassurance that there would be life. Life would, in fact, go on. It already was.
And so I continue my quest for comfort and for community at the farmer’s market. I look on Tuesday, on Saturday, and Sunday, too. My list of favorites is below. Have a look, then head out, and you’ll find fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese and flowers, but also the knowledge that though the world is a scary and sometimes terrible place, there is so much good out there, too.
A List of My Favorite Capital District Area Farmer’s Markets….And a note about what I find interesting or particularly good at each)
Which market do you go to for vegetables and comfort? Feel free to leave a comment.
1) Tuesday Delmar Farmer’s Market
Tuesday from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m., May – October
Methodist Church on Kenwood Ave, Delmar
This market is all business, not made for lingering. Get in and get out quick, with tomatoes, corn and roasted chicken for dinner. Why I love it, aside from being a quick walk from home: every farmer’s market need, in one tidy place: vegetables, fruit, cheese, bread and meat, even beautiful flowers.
2) Empire State Plaza Wednesday Outdoor Market
Wednesday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Empire State Plaza, May-October
Empire State Concourse, November – April
The Empire State Plaza market is beautiful to behold. Set around the reflecting pools and fountains on the Plaza in downtown Albany, this is a great place to buy lunch (from the many food trucks) and take a noontime stroll. Most of the vendors have been there for many, many years and the vibe is friendly and casual. I love picking up a scone and a kind word from Jay at Meredith’s Bread.
3) Troy Waterfront Farmer’s Market
Saturday, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
River Street in Troy, May to October
Uncle Sam’s Atrium, November – April
Ah, the Troy Farmer’s Market. It’s the gold standard of Capital District farmer’s markets. It’s the kind of place I always send people to who are visiting from out of town. “What?! You’ve never been to the Troy Market?” Upon hearing this news, I send them to this must-see destination. It’s the area’s biggest market, and it’s set among the beautiful historic buildings of downtown Troy. There’s good live music (go ahead and dance!) and maybe best of all-they allow dogs. My go-to market stand: Oh Corn! Arepas. Never had an arepa? It’s a crispy little corn cake that’s basically a vehicle for all the good stuff they pile on it: avocado, pork, beans, vegetables, you get the idea.
4) Guilderland Farmer’s Market
Sunday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
July, August, September, October
Behind Star Plaza at the corner of Western Ave. and Route 155
This hidden gem doesn’t start until July, but when it’s up and running, it’s a great Sunday outing. Part farm market, part flea market, part craft fair, there’s something for everyone here. Check out Cultivated, a fresh flower business that specializes in creative, beautiful posey-centered bouquets that are unlike any other.
5) Saturday Delmar Farmer’s Market
Saturday 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
May – October, outside the Bethlehem Middle School
November – December, inside the Bethlehem MIddle School.
The Delmar Saturday Market is a solid farmer’s market, with plenty of produce and food options. They have fair-trade craft vendors peppered throughout, and special events, like book fairs and pet adoptions. This market is the one and only place to get a famous Jimmy Makes Pizza. You can also pick up a cool and creative popsicle (think blackberry ginger or strawberry and lychee coconut cream) from the market’s newest vendor, Market Pop.
6) The Colonie Farmers Market
Saturday 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
May 18 through September
At the Crossings, 508 Albany Shaker Road, Colonie
Got kids? Then this is the market for you! Where else could you get all of your shopping done, sip wine samples and relax while the kiddos romp on a deluxe playground and a tree maze? I never leave without a bag of Jiff-e-chips, crunchy and deliciously greasy, thick cut potato chips. The dill pickle flavor is swoon-worthy.
7) Schenectady Farmer’s Market
Sunday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
May – October, Outside City Hall
November – April, Inside Proctor’s Theatre
If you were busy on Saturday or just didn’t get your fill of fresh local produce, have no fear! There’s another really cool farmer’s market, this one in Schenectady. In summertime, the market is wrapped around beautiful City Hall in downtown Schenectady. I wouldn’t leave without a bag of their delicate li’l microgreens: mizuna, radish, kale, the list goes on and on. These tiny greens add flavor, spice and delicate beauty to every dish they adorn.