Farm to Market

When Kelly Kinsella visited Red Jacket Orchard’s stand at the greenmarket in New York City’s Abingdon Square, she knew just what she was looking for – Macoun apples and perhaps a few heirlooms such as Pippins and Winesaps. “I’m not a fan of Red Delicious sweetness,” she said.

Kinsella lives in Manhattan’s Chelsea district and works in the costume department of a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, she grew up in Liverpool, near Syracuse, where every year she would go apple picking with her family at the nearby orchards. “I was born in October, and that’s how I celebrated my birthday – with apple pies and going apple picking.”

Nowadays, Kinsella picks her apples at a couple of the more than 50 greenmarkets that offer New York City residents the chance to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy, locally-grown food items.

“Local,” of course, is a relative term. For the New York greenmarkets, local can describe a bakery across the Hudson River in Union County, New Jersey, or it can refer to the 600-acre Red Jacket Orchard more than 200 miles away in Geneva, or to the King Ferry Winery on the east side of Cayuga Lake. Actually, about 15 Finger Lakes-area producers, including five wineries, are listed among the more than 230 businesses that operate greenmarket stands throughout New York City’s five boroughs.

With a New York City staff of 40 people and a warehouse in Brooklyn, the Red Jacket operation serves 30 greenmarkets – and another 20 independent neighborhood stands – across the five boroughs. “Red Jacket is a particularly active member of the greenmarket community,” a GrowNYC spokesperson noted. “We have other growers who do multiple markets, but 30 markets – that’s a lot.”

“New York City customers keep us sharp,” Red Jacket President Brian Nicholson observed. “And they will reward you if you deliver what they want – it’s a food culture.”

Big in the Big Apple
Red Jacket began its New York greenmarkets venture in 1992, said Joseph Nicholson Jr., Brian’s father and company chairman. His three sons – Jay, and twins Brian and Mark, have all worked in the city at the greenmarkets, which have been a training ground for the family. Son Mark serves as the company’s executive vice president.

The orchard grows 400 acres of apples, with 10 acres of heirloom varieties; 180 acres of stone fruit, including peaches, plums and apricots; and 40 acres of berry crops – all within a 15-mile radius of its Geneva base. “The summer fruits such as apricots are very popular because they’re tree-ripened,” Joseph said. “We have 40 acres of apricots. They’re high-colored with a red cheek and have a really nice flavor.”

Two years ago, the company built a state-of-the-industry $4 million juice plant and now produces an array of fresh, flash-pasteurized apple and fruit-blended apple juices. Fuji and straw berry- and raspberry-blended apple juices are big sellers.

“Everything we do is fresh,” Brian said. “Everything is focused on getting it into the consumers’ hands. People respond to our product because it tastes good and, because it’s fresh, it’s got an enormous amount of micronutrients. It just makes you feel better.”
In addition to the greenmarket business, Red Jacket services about 100 wholesale customers at some 200 locations around the New York metropolitan area. Nevertheless, “I’m still my largest juice customer” explained Brian, adding, “I still sell more juice in the markets than any other customer I work with. I can sell more juice on a Monday at Union Square than I can ship to a wholesale customer in a week. Thirty percent of our business is direct to the consumer.”

Kelly Kinsella is one of Red Jacket’s loyal customers who often visits the Union Square greenmarket on Mondays to buy juice. The new black currant blend is a favorite, and she is a big fan of the orchard’s apricots. “I love those apricots – they’re beautiful!” she said.

Author and freelance editor Jerrold Mundis, who lives a short distance from the Abingdon Square greenmarket, is another fan. “They had a summer mix of apple with a little lemon in it (Joe’s Summer Blend) that was particularly refreshing and delightful,” he said.

“Now I’m buying the black currant and apple blend – that’s pleasant in the morning.” The shopper also praised Red Jacket’s selection of heirloom apples. “I’m old enough so that heirlooms were the apples I grew up with. They were contemporary – if you know what I mean,” he said with a laugh.

Mundis said the greenmarket is helping him to establish a new eating regimen. “I’m a single guy, and I don’t particularly like to spend a lot of time cooking,” he said. “I was bringing in a lot of food from specialty shops and eating too much. It was expensive and I was putting on too much weight.”

Along with other market-inspired dietary changes, Mundis now cuts up a Red Jacket apple in the morning – Honey Crisp is a current favorite – and snacks on the quarters throughout the day. At night, he makes a cup of hot spiced cider “and that’s very pleasant.”

“I appreciate the effort that is put out by all the vendors to drive to the sites here, set up and be available,” Mundis said. “They’re providing me with fresh and tasty produce and meats, and it’s nice to start to recognize the people at the stands and exchange names with them. The market is serving me on lots of levels, and that very much includes Red Jacket.”

Growing organic
Just east of Ithaca, in the town of Caroline, another Finger Lakes grower is reaping the benefits of doing business at the New York City greenmarkets. Cayuga Pure Organics grows a variety of organic beans and grain on 450 acres and ships about 5,000 pounds of product to the city weekly. The company runs stands at seven greenmarkets and delivers its beans, grains and flour to almost 100 restaurants and retail stores during the week.

Owner Erick Smith, who holds a doctorate in mathematics education and has taught at several institutions, started the business with Dan Lathwell in 2003 as a supplier of feed to organic dairies. The men began growing organic beans and grains for human consumption in 2005 at the request of the GreenStar co-op in Ithaca. A GrowNYC representative visiting Ithaca in 2008 saw the Cayuga Pure Organic products at GreenStar and encouraged the growers to bring their beans and grain to the New York City greenmarkets.

Smith said the company’s sales break down to 40 percent dry beans, 40 percent flour and 20 percent grains. The business “is bigger than I ever imaged we would be a few years ago,” Smith said. “It’s certainly pushed our capability in terms of getting that much ready to go every week and being able to handle it in New York City, but it’s been rewarding to find there’s that much interest among people in getting organic beans and grain and flour.”

Smith rents space at Red Jacket Orchard’s Brooklyn warehouse.

On a busy fall Saturday at the Union Square greenmarket – a popular tourist attraction and place to hang out – Lucy Flores, of Victoria, Texas, stopped at the Cayuga Pure Organics stand and bought a package of red beans. Flores and her husband Joseph were touring the market with their son Justin, a professional ballet dancer who lives in Manhattan.

Lucy Flores later said the beans “cooked up really pretty with white rice. They were wonderful.” She said, “I’ve been to the markets in Seattle and San Francisco, but I think Union Square was tops. Maybe it was the romanticism of New York, but I thought it was a great place.” Son Justin noted that he and his roommate make a trip over to the market a couple of times a week to pick up vegetables. “There’s a big difference in taste and the guys are very knowledgeable about their products,” he said.

Straight from the source
Greenmarket shoppers frequently cite the connection with the growers as part of the appeal. Sarah Queen, a senior vice president for asset management at a large Manhattan real estate company, shops at Union Square on Saturdays every couple of weeks. “It’s always fun to just wander around and see what’s fresh and kind of make up what you’re doing for dinner as you go,” she said.

“I like talking with the growers. They can tell you about the freshest things they’ve got, and if you’re not sure what to do with something you see, they can give you suggestions about that,” she added. “They’re very helpful, and they get excited when people ask them about their products.”

Queen said she buys “the whole gamut” of products at the market, including Red Jacket apples and juices. “Their applesauce is something we’re especially fond of,” she said, adding with a laugh: “I’m not an apple connoisseur, but my children love apples, so I’m at a point where I know the difference between a Gala and a Honey Crisp.”

In the fall, Queen buys hard cider from Eve’s Cidery, another Finger Lakes grower at Union Square. “My husband and I both enjoy the hard cider,” she said. “I’ll buy a couple of bottles to keep on hand.”

In fact, last fall, Queen and her family traveled to China to visit the World Expo in Shanghai and took two bottles of Eve’s hard cider along as gifts for friends.
Autumn Stoscheck, who owns Eve’s with her husband Ezra Sherman, said the Van Etten farm grows 16 acres of apples and another five acres of stone fruit. “We grow 30 varieties of apples; it’s a challenge,” she said. The cidery produces four sparkling ciders, a sparkling perry and an ice cider.

They do 80 percent of their business in the city, said Stoscheck. Besides operating a greenmarket stand at Union Square three days a week, the farm sells product to a dozen restaurants there.

Walking around the Union Square greenmarket on a Saturday afternoon, a visitor can’t help but encounter a constant stream of enthusiastic supporters of the market’s buy local ethos. Melissa Paige, a social worker who lives in Manhattan, seemed to define the movement.

She was buying a bottle of red wine at the stand operated by the Penn Yan-based Anthony Road winery. She described her purchase as “a lovely wine, dry yet light – an easy-drinking wine.” Noting she also frequents the Eve’s Cidery stand, she said she enjoys that farm’s Sparkling Bittersweet hard cider.

“I try as many stands as I can,” Paige explained. “I started going to the greenmarket because I loved it, and now I can’t not go there because I believe in it so much.”
“We’re a community and we have to take care of each other,” she continued. “It’s wonderful to be talking to the vendors and to learn from them. I don’t care if you can get lettuce cheaper at Trader Joe’s around the corner – you’ve got to buy it from the greenmarket. It’s important on a human level and on a health level. It’s a win-win situation.”

John Martini, owner of Anthony Road winery, has been selling on Saturdays at Union Square for the last 18 years. Greenmarket sales represent a little less than 10 percent of their business. “It gives us exposure and it’s fun. I don’t know if fun counts, but it’s fun,” he said.

The winery’s award-winning Rieslings have been growing in popularity. “The Finger Lakes is developing a reputation for Rieslings and so are we as an individual winery,” explained Martini. Of the winery’s 77 acres, 18 are devoted to Reisling grapes.

Making connections
At the Union Square greenmarket, another long-time market purveyor, the Fifth Floor Farm Kitchen, occupies a stand next to Anthony Road’s. It’s operated by the husband-and-wife team of Fred Price and Faye Chan of Moravia in Cayuga County.

The couple started their business in 1983 in their fifth-floor apartment in the Inwood section at the northern tip of Manhattan. Their arms loaded with a variety of both sweet and savory baked goods, Price and Chan would travel by subway to their first greenmarket stand at 175th Street. In 1988, the city began enforcing a rule prohibiting food businesses in apartment buildings, and Price and Chan moved to a farm in Jeffersonville, Sullivan County. Finally, in 2006, after enduring four Catskill floods in two years, the couple moved again, this time to a new home in Moravia, where they installed a commercial kitchen.

“I make Hungarian cakes with seasonal fruit on top,” Price said. “My favorite topping is peaches, but I also use apricots and Bosc pears.” The apricots he buys from Red Jacket. Chan’s talent is focused on vegetable pies and turnovers.

Price drives his baked goods down to Union Square on Saturdays. “I leave here between 1 and 2 a.m. and get back around midnight,” he said, noting the routine gives him lots of time to listen to recorded books. Chan sells her products on Sundays at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market.

On a Saturday at Union Square, Julia Nettles Bey, manager of the personal shopping team at Tiffany & Co., stopped at the Fifth Floor Farm Kitchen stand and bought a scone and a brownie. “I’d been to the market before, but I’d never purchased anything from this stand,” Bey said. “The individuals selling the items seemed very personable and the food itself looked appetizing. It was excellent.”

Last year, Leverett Saltonstall, the 22-year-old son of King Ferry Winery owners Peter and Tacie Saltonstall, moved to Hoboken and began selling the family’s much-honored Treleaven wines at a handful of greenmarkets in the city. “Lev did such a good job selling down in the city last year that we had to scramble to increase our production. It’s a good problem to have,” Peter Saltonstall said.

The success of last year’s efforts in the city has led the winery to expand its greenmarket presence to 13 locations this year. “We’re excited,” Peter said. “We’ve really jumped in, and it’s going very well.” The winery now rents warehouse space in New Jersey near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel.

Leverett said that on Saturdays he orchestrates the setup of seven market stands across Manhattan and Brooklyn. “It’s pretty crazy,” he admitted. Good sellers include the winery’s Reislings and its Silver-Lining Chardonnay.

“Other wineries have not jumped in on this because it is daunting,” Peter mused. “I don’t know what degree you need to have to understand the parking situation in New York City; it’s impossible. If you have to do a delivery on a Friday afternoon you might as well have somebody shoot you. I got stuck on Canal Street once for an hour and a half! Shoot me now, please!” he said, with a laugh.

“I complain, but we’re excited about the numbers we’re doing, and I think the wholesale business will come, too. It’s fun and it’s exciting.

“It’s fun to connect with the people.”


by Bill Wingell