By Sara Medlicott,
ICC Librarian, Farm-to-Table Coordinator
In addition to my library duties, I am the coordinator of our Farm-to-Table program. It’s a personal passion of mine, so taking on this role here at ICC has been a real pleasure.
In case you aren’t familiar, the Farm-to-Table add on includes field trips and a week of training and education at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in addition to our standard culinary curriculum. Our current group of students recently went on one of my favorite field trips, to the Union Square Greenmarket.
I’ve been to the Greenmarket plenty of times, but never experienced it quite like this. We partner with GrowNYC, a sustainability education non-profit, for a tour that adds many layers to the market experience. Our tour guide, Kira Cohen-Milo, was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the market and perhaps most importantly, she knew all the right questions to ask to get the farmers talking. GrowNYC operates all the Greenmarkets in the city – no small feat considering there are over 50 located in all five boroughs. The Union Square Greenmarket is the flagship and has been operating since 1976! Some of the farmers we met have been selling there from the very beginning.
One of those long time farms is Berkshire Berries. We were able to speak with David Graves for quite awhile, who began driving down to the Greenmarket from his farm in Becket Massachusetts in 1978. On offer, he had honeys, jams and jellies. We learned about the changes in bee populations over the years and were able to sample one of his most unique offerings – the dandelion jelly. I guess he didn’t mind opening a fresh jar for our group because he knew it would be a hit and several of us bought jars to take home.
We also got to meet Stewart Borowsky, who grows wheatgrass and micro greens in Brooklyn. He was busy the whole time we were at his stand, with a wide range of customers. Some bought plants to take home while others just wanted a quick wheatgrass shot. We got to sample sunflower micro greens which were lovely. Stewart has a lot of experience working with chefs so he was able to tell our group a little about how many professional kitchens operate in relation to market vendors.
Kira taught us about the Black Dirt region of New York. The black dirt region is flat flood plain that was once the bottom of a giant shallow lake formed as the ice-age glaciers melted 12,000 years ago. The flat plain is speckled with “islands” – isolated hills rising above the valley floor that once were, in fact, islands. The black dirt itself is a rich, airy soil full of nutrients – perfect for farming. We stopped by S & SO Produce farm, which boasted a whopping 5 tables piled high with vibrant root vegetables. Staff there told us that the nutrient rich soil improves all produce in different ways, lettuce is spicier and beets are sweeter.
As a parting gift, Kira passed out really cool local food wheels to the whole group. You can spin it to the current month and see what is in season within 150 miles of New York City. It’s just another of the many amazing things GrowNYC does. Beyond Greenmarkets and education, GrowNYC also build and support community garden and organize recycling events.
Would you like to read more about Greenmarkets? Not sure what to do with your Greenmarket produce? Here are a few recommended resources available in the International Culinary Center Library:
- The New Greenmarket Cookbook by Gabrielle Langholtz is sponsored by GrowNYC and tells the whole origin story of the markets with profiles of farmers and seasonally sorted recipes from a wide range of New York chefs and food writers including Ruth Reichel and ICC alums Jennifer King and Dan Barber. It also includes great suggestions for those who are new to the market shopping experience.
- The Greenmarket Cookbook by Joel Patraker & Joan Schwartz profiles the Union Square Greenmarket. It includes tips and tricks for shopping at the market along with seasonal recipes.
- Earth to Table by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann tells the story of their experience sourcing local ingredients and partnering with farmers and how that evolved until ultimately they were planting and harvesting their own crops. The book also contains profiles of chefs such as Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller explaining their relationship to farmers.