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New York's Open-Air Farmer's Markets - 2002-04-22


Earth Day, a day set aside annually to focus on environmental concerns, was observed Monday, April 22 with all sorts of events throughout the United States.

Greenmarket organizes and manages open-air farmers' markets throughout New York City. The program of the Council on the Environment of New York City, sponsors farmers' markets where growers sell over 600 varieties of fruits, vegetables and farm products directly to New Yorkers. Greenmarket supports local farmers, preserves farmlands and gives farmers and city residents an opportunity to get to know each other.

Shopping for asparagus at the Union Square greenmarket on a Saturday morning, Executive Chef Dan Silverman of the upscale, award-winning Union Square Café, planned to prepare and serve the vegetable that night at the restaurant. He says the greenmarket program is a responsible way to farm and shop. "I think you're treating your customers better when you're serving them food that hasn't been treated with pesticides," he said. "You're getting natural food. You're not getting genetically modified food."

Known for what has been called "always fresh, wonderfully prepared, regular American food," Union Square Café is one of over one hundred New York City restaurants that get their ingredients from farmers' markets each week. Greenmarket runs 36 markets throughout the city, with the Union Square market in Manhattan being its largest and most popular. But fashionable chefs aren't the only environmentally-friendly patrons of the market.

A teacher and her schoolchildren come to buy flowers and plants, learn about recycling, and provide for a garden they tend to in the city. "We come to the market once a month and we have a garden on 12th Street and Avenue B and a grant, so what we have [done] is developed a relationship with this farmer,"she said. "We do recycling, we do planting, we do animals, we do environmental studies."

Recycling is the basis of Stewart Burowski's small farm in Brooklyn. The owner of Greener Pastures sells wheat grass and other grain grasses for edible and decorative purposes. He is an advocate of what's called sustainable farming, which tries to rely on a minimum of man-made inputs. Mr. Burowski believes farms must be sustainable to preserve the earth. "We're organic and we don't use any chemicals and that's why we like to recycle everything," he said. "It's basically the only way to live and to farm. It's impossible to do so without compromises but it's certainly important to make the best effort that we can."

The Union Square market is host to various forms of environmental awareness. Market manager Brandon Howard says representatives of environmental groups often visit the market. "We had the DEP [Department on Environmental Protection] come down the people who try to preserve the water," he said. "We get different people who come down like that. We give them a space. They hand out different flyers about preserving the water which is a real serious issue."

Fish seller Stephanie Villani says she's especially concerned about the state of the nation's waters. Running the small family business Blue Moon Fish, Ms. Villani sells a variety of fresh catches, some so fresh, local Japanese restaurants serve her fish raw. The Eastern end of Long Island," she said. "My husband has been fishing out there for about 30 years now and he says it's really cleaned up a lot, but there's still a lot more that can be done."

Greenmarket provides everything from fresh fish to beautiful flowers to succulent tomatoes to compost bins for recycling kitchen scraps. The program operates year-round, offering educational and social activities in environmentally-aware surroundings, making Earth Day everyday for some New Yorkers.