“This is the village green. Where you come to see what’s going on with your neighbors and get all this wonderful produce,” said Nan Carroll, putting two canvas bags brimming with food on the ground to pause and chat. “This is a way of checking on people, a way of providing support for people. Feed the psyche, feed the soul, feed the stomach.”
Weekdays, Carroll is Director at the Center for Legislative Development at the University at Albany, but Saturdays she is a faithful shopper at the Troy Waterfront and Winter Farmers Markets. She and her husband Tom are longtime fans of local agriculture and joined New York State’s first CSA, run by Janet Britt in Schaghticoke, a town in Rensselaer County. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and is a method for the consumer to share investing in the crop with the farmer.
Tom Carroll is former Director of the Hudson-Mohawk Industrial Gateway and of RiverSpark; he was instrumental in getting the market settled in the city. The Carroll’s are now members of Denison Farms’ CSA, which runs on the same land as Janet Britt’s, and pick up their vegetable share weekly at the Troy market, where they can round out their grocery shopping with a full complement of locally produced meats, breads, cheeses, maple and honey products. Plants, soaps, flowers and other gifts and necessities are also available from over fifty vendors. Once you get hungry, prepared foods are at the ready whether the market is outside on River Street or indoors at the Atrium.
The market is a decade old and going strong. Several groups took interest in forming a regional farmers’ market in the Capital District in the late 1990’s. The Regional Farm and Food Project, a nonprofit committed to developing and supporting small-scale agriculture, RiverSpark and a couple associated with Siena College, Matt and Amy Lindstrom, joined forces and built a solid framework for a summer producers only farmers’ market. Guidelines to assure foods would be locally grown were strict. Special events such as chef demonstrations, kids’ activities, and live music drew people who were not seeking to shop from farmers, and helped create a sense of place and community on a parking lot. The Waterfront Market was such a success that after a couple of summers vendors approached the owners of the Atrium about setting up indoors over the winter. The momentum of this four-season market continues.
“Ten years ago, it was nothing. Now probably we sell a million and a half dollars of goods. That’s a lot of stuff that didn’t have a market,” said Seth Jacobs of Slack Hollow Farms in Argyle. Jacobs brings vegetables weekly to Troy. The market enabled them to switch from a CSA model to retailing.
“I would never have started this up without this market as a target. We don’t wholesale. We don’t do other markets much,” said Ave Gillis, of Gillis Acres Farm. She and her husband invested a considerable amount of money to make a creamery on their Washington County land. She milks fifty Alpine goats to make over twenty different products, mostly cheeses but also yogurt and kefir. She sells goats’ milk also and just introduced goat’s meat. Her clients tend to be the same people week to week and year round.
Loyalties tend to grow when you know who is feeding you, and lines at stalls can be long early in the morning as people are eager to get the best choice. Shoppers develop connections with farmers and producers, and often know exactly what they want to buy from where. Carrots from one person, bread from another, and a very certain cookie as a treat. The Keebler bakers just don’t communicate so well as a live and lively human being.
“I liked the people I met,” said Dinnie Shanley, a steady customer at the market. “You get to know the farmers. It’s a whole different type of atmosphere. You can ask questions about how the food was grown.”
Shanley has been in the area twenty-three years, and got to know two of this market’s vendors while shopping at the market Capital District Community Gardens established downtown. Charlie Riggio, of R& R Farms, and Christine Bielawski, sold vegetables on the sidewalk around a fenced-in hole that eventually became the Atrium, and started selling at the Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market in its first years. Shanley stretched her relationships with the farmers by collecting food to deliver to food banks. She still collects and delivers food, in a low profile, matter of fact manner that is all about function, and cares nothing for grandstanding.
“Got all walks of life here, right? Got the kids and families, rich people, not so affluent, everyone,” said Charlie Riggio, who still sells at the summer market. “I like it down here. When I’m up in Saratoga, I’m just another pretty face selling vegetables. Down here, people know me.”
Come to the market and be known this winter. Take time for your visit, and plan to make connections. You might meet old friends, and should make the acquaintance of the area’s next generation of farmers. Jen Ward of Our Farm, Sarah Bulson of Homestead Farms, and Dale Cornell of Cornell Farms are maturing with the market, which is helping to mold a steady future for family farms.
Be ready to be wowed by the wealth of fresh vegetables growing in the winter sun, from arugala to spinach, stopping at every lettuce in between. See the squashes and root vegetables that store the light of summer as you stroll the improvised village green of the Atrium.
Saturdays 9-1 year-round: at the Uncle Sam Atrium, Broadway at 3rd & 4th Streets from November through April; at River Street from May through October.