Toronto has one, and so does Paris. If New York is to earn its place as one of the world’s greatest food cities, we ought to have a permanent, thriving wholesale farmer’s market, a place where the myriad medium-sized farms in the tri-state area can market their goods to restaurants, grocery stores, bodegas, hospitals, and schools. The smaller scale retail Greenmarkets, such as the one at Union Square, simply are not feasible suppliers for large retailers. The only way that great-quality, non-industrial, local food will ever become widely available to both rich and poor, the only way that it will ever be able to compete in the larger marketplace, is through a wholesale outlet.
Today, we came a little bit closer to that goal as the The Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC), the organization that runs the retail Greenmarkets across the city, announced that it would take over the management, promotion, and (most importantly) development of the current wholesale farmer’s market, which is now an independent and tenacious group of eight to 14 farmers who gather in the parking lot of the Fulton Fish Market six days a week, while waiting for a more permanent, more populous home.
New York’s wholesale farmer’s market actually has a long and vibrant history. When I wrote about the trials and tribulations of the market last year, I discovered that, in the first half of the 20th century, the Bronx Terminal Market held over 100 farmers that sold wholesale. But when the city handed over the Terminal Market to a private company under a 99-year lease, the farmers were eventually kicked out to make way for the market’s redevelopment as a retail space. So they moved to a parking lot under the Major Deegan Expressway. Three years ago, the developers said they needed that parking lot for construction equipment, so the farmers–their numbers rapidly dwindling–were homeless again. So they rented part of the parking lot of the Fulton Fish Market; this is their third season there.
In 2008, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets proposed creating a dedicated site for an expanded wholesale farmers’ market with indoor and outdoor facilities for 130 farmers. The department is betting that better infrastructure, publicity, and organization would attract more farmers and buyers. This is what both Toronto and Paris have already done successfully. The problem is that none of the various bureaucracies involved can decide where that location should be. Meanwhile, instead of waiting for the city and state to get their acts together, the remaining farmers continued to hold their own market in the parking lot.
Which is why it is such good news that the resources, manpower, and expertise of CENYC will now be behind the wholesale market. Though the goal is still to build a large, state-of-the-art facility, in the meantime, CENYC will work to attract new producers and customers to the current location. If the market grows in size, it will also grow in influence.
“Our goal is to keep that market viable; promote it, bring in new farmers, and sell a lot of fresh product,” says Marcel Van Ooyen, executive director of CENYC. Asked about the problems the market has faced, he replied, “That market has faced a lot of challenges since it’s been moved. But I think that farmers still have a core set of customers…our aim is a vibrant and exciting market.”
“The product speaks for itself at the end of the day. It’s a fabulous product at a great price, so selling it is pretty easy,” he added.
The market can be found in the Fulton Fish Market parking lot in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx, and is open Monday through Friday from 2am to about 8:30am, and on Saturday until noon. Along with wholesale buyers, the public is also welcome.