Four days a week since 1976, the Union Square in Manhattan has been hosting an outdoor farmer's market. Aptly called the Greenmarket, local farmers from the Hudson Valley in upstate New York and neighboring states bring in their fresh produce to be sold directly to consumers without the middleman. Saturdays are the busiest with crowds spilling all over the square. We took the subway there today to see for ourselves the variety of goods being sold.
I've been exposed to local markets as far as I can remember, going back to the early '80s while vacationing in Bohol, Philippines where my father's sleepy hometown awakened to the weekly tabo right after Sunday mass. As an adult, my jaunts to other countries attracted me further to markets of all kinds: the gold souk in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, the Sunday market in Pisac, Peru and the Witches market in La Paz, Bolivia.
Everywhere I go, I became more fascinated as local markets provide a snapshot of a community. When I moved to New York in 2001, I thought of New Yorkers as major urban consumers contented with the "sterile" environments of airconditioned grocery stores. When "buy local" became buzz words, I sought to find out what exactly these mean knowing there is obviously no farm in Manhattan island. That's when I discovered the Greenmarket.
The Union Square Greenmarket is a beehive of activity as soon as farmers arrive with their trucks early in the morning, set up their tents and sell their goods. From 8 AM to 6 PM, there's a steady stream of crowd including chefs from nearby restaurants. They poke, pinch, grab, sniff, taste and carefully eye every item. What's in season for this month are the best buys: asparagus, beet greens, lettuce, mesclun, parsnips, radishes, rhubarb, scallions, spinach, summer squash and turnip greens. Besides vegetables, there are fruits, meat, poultry, baked goods, jams, honey, milk and dairy products as well as potted plants and flowers.
The relationship between producer and consumers have been very fruitful these past 3 decades. Many previously struggling farmlands within 100 miles of Manhattan have survived and in fact have proliferated. Rural economies benefited as farmers invest back to their lands thereby preserving the agricultural landscape. Meanwhile, direct marketing enabled consumers to interact with farmers, get to know more about their products and get to eat the freshest organic produce available at reasonable prices. If this symbiosis is anything to go by, then buying local is the kind of consumer revolution that ought to flourish.