A ribbon-cutting by local officials will open the 11th season of the Saugerties Farmers’ Market this Saturday, May 26. The Saugerties Community Band will play, craftspeople will offer their wares and the first chef demo of the season will feature local chef James Tamayo. At the heart of it, of course, will be the several dozen farmers and artisanal food producers offering an abundant selection of locally grown produce, poultry, meat, cheeses, baked goods and other delectables.
“Coming to the market is a way of thinking through what you’re going to do with food,” says Judith Spektor, who along with husband Barry Benepe has been involved with organizing the market since its inception in 2002. Shopping at the Farmers’ Market, says Spektor, “is an opportunity to see what’s in season and what looks good, and then build your meals around that,” rather than having a preconceived plan, as one does when going to the grocery store with a list of items to buy.
“The entire experience of the Farmers’ Market is what makes it exceptional,” says Barry Benepe. “Shopping outdoors, overlooking beautiful places; it’s a nice experience. Another wonderful thing about it is meeting people. Here, we put out café tables and chairs, and people sit down and chat, and it becomes a very social, engaging atmosphere.”
Even more than that, says Benepe, it allows people to make the connection that they’re getting food from the person who grew it. “When you learn how food is grown, you stop taking it for granted,” he says. “Food becomes a connection between people. And you’ll get food in the Farmers’ Market that you just will not find in the store. It’s exciting. And of course you get the textures and the smell of it, because it’s not plastic-wrapped.”
Everything offered at the Market is the farmers’ own locally grown product, says Benepe. While farmstands will sometimes sell produce grown elsewhere when it’s out of season here, he says, part of the mission of the Saugerties Farmers’ Market is to keep local farms going, “not just keep that farmer making a living” by selling anything that they can.
The committee that organizes the market goes out to every farm or food producer for a visit before welcoming it into the market. “It’s actually one of the pleasures of serving on the committee: to get to go to a farm visit, because you see the person in their element, and they tell you what they do and how they do it,” says Spektor. “It’s not that we see ourselves as the ‘food police,’ but we do check to see if they’re who they say they are. The purpose is really to encourage them, because we’re so pleased that they’re keeping the landscape open and maintaining the tradition of farming.”
A lot of the produce is organic, but not all of it. “We don’t limit it to organic, because there just aren’t enough organic farms,” says Benepe. “That’s especially true with fruit. The closest you get to organic with fruit is IPM – integrated pest management – where the farmer keeps tab of insect populations in the field and doesn’t spray until they reach a certain point. The spraying is reduced in this way, so it’s considered a halfway measure between organic and conventional farming.”
Benepe says that the one thing that the organizers always hear from customers is that they’d like to see a greater variety of products at the Market. “We could bring in more farmers, but we don’t want to do it at the price of having a farmer suffer who’s already in the Market,” he says. “We’d rather have the farmers themselves provide greater variety.”