by Suzanne Sorrentino
Melons that look like beach balls, tomatoes that taste like lychee fruit, bouquets beautiful enough to grace a dining room table but delectable enough to eat. That’s just a taste of what some Westchester County farmers plan to showcase at the Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow Farmers Market, which opened May 28 in Patriots Park.
The farmers spoke to a crowd of about 20 at Muddy Water Coffee & Cafe on May 19, during the first “TaSH Talk,” sponsored by the TaSH Farmers Market and hosted by Muddy Water.
“Our local farmers are so incredibly full of knowledge,” said Angeline Montoya Powell, a member of Rivertowns Village Green, the all-volunteer organization that sponsors the TaSH market. Montoya Powell moderated the TaSH Talk and is spearheading the TaSH’s new education initiative. “If we can tap into their knowledge, we can make even better choices about what we all do in our homes and how we approach not only what we eat but where it’s from and how it’s grown.”
Unmistakable from the rest of the crowd with their bronzed skin, soil-washed jeans and the faint perfume of the outdoors about them, the five farmers engaged in a 60-minute Q&A about healthy foods, sustainability, pricing, the weather and what they love about farming.
After a mild winter, a late cold snap and a rainy May, the farmers said they were facing both challenges and opportunities this season.
Mike Fedison of Purdy’s Farmer and the Fish lamented the loss of all his tree fruit. The trees flowered early due to the mild winter but the blossoms died during a spring freeze.
Underlining the importance of diversification, Fedison said the same weather that killed his peach blossoms led to a bumper crop of strawberries at the North Salem farm. “I have to remember to order more berry boxes,” he noted.
Not just weather challenges Westchester farmers. Development has depleted soil quality throughout the county. When shoppers buy from local farmers, they help restore the environment, said Doug DeCandia. He oversees five farms in the county that support the Food Bank for Westchester.
DeCandia likened the local soil to an unhealthy human digestive system. “In our gut, there are bacteria and things that help us absorb and use the food we eat,” he said. Immunity suffers when the gut organisms are depleted. Small, sustainable farmers are dedicated to restoring soil health. Adding compost and certain bacteria and fungi makes the soil nutrients more available to the plants, making the produce more nutritious.
“These practices build resistance and resilience against diseases” he said. “You have to get back to a good foundation. That’s when it’s sustainable.”
All that careful attention to sustainability and health comes with a price and partly contributes to an often-voiced complaint that farmers market foods are expensive.
“There is a perception that food needs to be cheap,” said Lou Dalessandro of JD Farms in Brewster, where he raises cows and pigs and grows corn, tomatoes and melon.
But that doesn’t take into account the unpredictability small farmers face yearly. For him, the snowy winter two years ago forced almost constant re-plowing of his pastures, so the cows could walk around and not freeze to death. The cost of diesel fuel went way over budget.
It also doesn’t account for the value local farmers add to the community by being a part of it. “Layers of benefits trickle down from the price you pay at the farmers market,” said Mimi Edelman of I & Me Farm in Bedford Hills, where she grows vegetables, herbs and flowers. By farming where she lives, Edelman can tailor her crops to match the cultural mix of her community. She purchases seeds from responsible sources and she pays her workers a fair wage.
“I’m your neighbor,” Sleepy Hollow resident Deb Taft of Mobius Fields added. “When you buy an eggplant from me at the market and tell me you’re going home to make ratatouille, I imagine you later putting ratatouille on the table for your family.”
What the farmers grow depends in part on what shoppers will buy. “I would love for you guys to evolve a little bit,” Taft said pointing at the audience. “You are willing to try more than you were before. The next step is being willing to buy a tomato with a spot on it.”
When shoppers only choose the perfect looking vegetable, they may be overlooking taste and quality, and contributing to waste, the farmers said.
It seemed like these five farmers could have swapped stories and good-natured teasing into the night. For them, their work is hard, honest, gratifying and important: “We are engaging in something that is so pure and simple,” DeCandia said. “It’s the intimate, daily interacting with nature, and we are the stewards.”
The TaSH plans more TaSH Talks to foster knowledge-sharing between local farmers and the public. The schedule is still being finalized but topics will include composting, fermenting, the importance of bees, a rain barrel workshop, a weed walk in the park and more.
“It’s amazing how they grow their food, what goes into and comes out of the process,” the TaSH’s Montoya Powell said. “They look at the health of the soil, how it affects the health of the food, and ultimately, that impacts the health of our bodies. It’s all connected and the farmers bring that to life.” (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow Farmers Market VENDORS
(may alternate weekly):
(Saturdays 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Patriot’s Park)
Acorn Hill Farm
All You Knead
Arlotta Food Studio
Asian Farmer Inc
Blooming Hill Farm
Chaseholm Farm Creamery
Clean Ridge Soap Company
Corbett’s Cookie Bar Kitchen
Fable: From Farm to Table
Finger Lakes Distilling |
White Pike Whiskey
Fishkill Farms LLC
Gaia’s Breath Farm
Gourment Home Chefs
Hillrock Estate Distillery
Hudson River Apiaries
Irvington Delight Market
J&K Brenner’s Sauce and Spice Co.
Kaffee & Klatsch NY
Love in a Jar
Mead Orchards LLC
Meredtih’s Country Bakery
North Winds Lavender Farm, LLC
Penny Lick Ice Cream Company
Pickle Licious, LLC
Pura Vida Fishereies, Inc
Purdy’s Farmer and the Fish
Southtown Farms LLC
Stefan’s Pure Blends
Stone Age Winery
The Ardent Homesteader Inc.
The Misshapened Bowl
True Foods Inc
Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery
Westtown Brew Works
Wild Sea Salt