You can tell the days the Union Square farmers' market, New York City's largest, is open by visiting Audubon's editorial offices. You'll find many staffers carrying bags filled with fresh produce they have toted back from the market. For us the 10-block walk offers the perfect respite from the daily office grind. At Union Square's northern end, on wide strips of asphalt hemmed in by busy streets, as many as 70 growers set up during peak season. Their stalls bustle with the frenetic activity of a Middle Eastern bazaar as New Yorkers scurry around in search of the juiciest heirloom tomatoes or the tenderest string beans.
For many of us, going to this farmers' market is more than a shopping excursion; it's a vital link to nature. We time our purchases to the seasonal harvests because the vegetables and fruits are grown locally and sold fresh, unlike in supermarkets, which are stocked with items trucked in year-round from far-flung places. The first sign of spring, in April, is the appearance of mesclun salad greens and parsnips. By May the asparagus, new potatoes, and turnip greens appear. The best time of the year might be late summer, when the bins overflow with beautiful fruits, like blackberries, peaches, and plums, glistening in the noonday sun and emitting a sweet aroma. My personal favorites are the apples with the tantalizing names: Pink Lady, Braeburn, Winesap, Stayman, Gala, and the incomparable Honey Crisp. After my purchase, I wipe one off on my shirt, then close my eyes while trying to block out the shrill of sirens and the honk of horns. The moment I sink my teeth into the Honey Crisp's firm flesh, I'm transported to the apple orchard in the countryside about 100 miles from the city where it was grown.
I'm not just imagining that this is a great-tasting apple. In The Ripe Stuff, her feature on the boom in farmers' markets, Mary-Powel Thomas interviews a California market manager who points out that produce picked ripe has reached its full sugar content. Even in the fancy markets that are organic, the produce is picked hard so that it won't spoil during shipping. There are many reasons besides taste for conservationists to frequent farmers' markets. As Mary-Powel writes, They're also preserving the green space that encircles their cities, towns, and suburbs; protecting air, water, and soil; and even conserving energy, because their food doesn't have to travel very far from farm to table. We hope you'll make the farmers' market a part of your regular food-shopping routine. Perhaps one of our top 10 is near you (see Cream of the Crop).
Addendum: Go to Audubon's homepage, www.audubon.org, to hear an audiocast of last issue's cover story, Nascar Conservationist, about Challenger, the celebrity bald eagle. You can also sync up to a portable MP3 player such as an iPod for on-the-go listening. I'd like to thank Bill Bergman of the Bergman Group, an advertising agency based in Richmond, Virginia, and an invaluable Audubon consultant, for the excellent production values, and our tech department for making the audiocast so user-friendly. Let us know what you think at email@example.com .
© 2006 National Audubon Society
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