Upstate Products In Downstate Markets

David J. Valesky

October 05, 2007

Corn, two ears for one dollar or $5.50 a dozen. Peppers, beans, and cabbage, all with premium prices. To top it off, in the little park surrounded by skyscrapers there were hundreds of people mulling about buying bags of these farm fresh products.

This was the scene on the first Monday in October at the Union Square Green Market in Manhattan, where four days a week twenty-five to seventy-five farmers from across the state set up shop to sell produce and farm products to the residents of New York City.

I visited this farmers’ market, joined by New York State Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Patrick Hooker and several Senate colleagues, as part of a day long tour of wholesale distribution centers and farmers’ markets in and around New York City.

This tour was the latest part of my effort to create stronger links between Upstate products and downstate consumers. Last month, I was pleased to host ten State Senators -- many from the New York City metropolitan area -- in a visit to Central New York to help them learn about Upstate farm products and meet local agriculture industry representatives. This past week, it was time for them to show me around and introduce me to representatives of downstate markets.
I can report that the people of New York City desperately want New York farm products, and because of that there are many opportunities to grow the product pipeline between Upstate farms to downstate consumers.

Our day started very early. We wanted to see the wholesale markets in action and the prime business hours for these markets are between Midnight and 8 a.m. The first stop was the New Fulton Fish Market Cooperative at Hunts Point in the Bronx, which is also the temporary home for the New York Wholesale Farmers’ Market. There we met with New York Farmers who sell produce to grocers, restaurants and distributors and talked about our plan to build a permanent home for these Upstate farmers.

Next we visited the New York City Terminal Produce Market, which is the largest wholesale market in the country, with trailer trucks full of everything from apples and grapes to artichokes and guava. A good portion of the fruits and vegetables sold in New York City comes through this market. The market representative said that they are the number one handler of New York farm produce -- though I pressed them to do even more.

We ended our day at the Union Square Green Market, one of more than 40 such farmers’ markets in New York City’s five boroughs. While most of the farmers at Union Square were from the Hudson Valley, one of the biggest stands was operated by a farmer from Norwich. This time a year, the owner of Norwich Meadows Farm fills his refrigerated truck four times a week and makes the four hour drive south to sell his produce for top dollar. He says it is well worth the trip.
The manager of the Green Market told me that the market is thriving, as are the participating farmers. He said it is because the people in New York City want these local New York products, and are willing to pay a premium. His biggest problem is that he needs more farmers who are willing to make the trip.

Seeing everything we saw on this day-long tour, there is no question that we can do a better job of selling Upstate products downstate. The opportunities are there and with the Agriculture commissioner, the Governor and others committed to making it happen, I am confident we will make this link stronger than ever.