How Produce Gets from the Farm to a Farmers Market

published Nov 22, 2014
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(Image credit: Mallory Samson)
  • Where: Amber Waves Farm, Amagansett, New York
  • Who: Amanda Merrow, Katie Baldwin, and Carissa Waechter
  • See all of the previous installments in this series: Farm Life Through the Seasons at Amber Waves Farm – A New Generation on the Farm

Every Thursday from June through October, Amanda and Katie pack up their haul of delicious organic produce and head out to the Montauk Farmers Market on the easternmost tip of Long Island to give the locals and summer revelers the chance to indulge in the bounty of Amber Waves Farm.

I had the chance this summer to visit them at the market and to experience the community that springs up around this gathering of farmers and food artisans.

“Ruby Perfection” cabbage and rainbow carrots. (Image credit: Mallory Samson)

Harvesting for the Farmers Market

For these two farmers, market day is the culmination of many hours of hard work at the farm. All produce that goes to the market must be as fresh as possible so timing is critical. In the crisp morning hours the day before the market, Amanda and Katie and the crew select and harvest dozens of varieties and hundreds of pounds of fruits and vegetables that are washed and stored in the walk-in cooler (which adds days to shelf-life in buyers’ refrigerators once produce is brought home).

As the clock strikes six AM the morning of the market, the farmers are already hustling. Some apprentices head to the field to harvest zucchini blossoms and basil (items that must be harvested the morning of the market to ensure quality and freshness) while the others review the checklist and work quickly to load the van ensuring an on-time departure to Montauk.

The display is important – it takes four people more than an hour to set up. (Image credit: Mallory Samson)

Setting up the Farmers Market

For a spectator, watching the farmers market get set up is like an enchanted scene from ‘Brigadoon.’ In the early morning hours, a once-empty Town Green in a sleepy fishing village suddenly transforms into a whirlwind of hum and activity — tents pop up, tables are draped, signs are posted and bouquets of lush seasonal flowers are plunged into water adding to the cacophony of color that emerges at each booth.

Mark sets up a box of radishes for sale. (Image credit: Mallory Samson)

In the thick of the din and bustle, Katie and Amanda are greeting their vendor neighbors and hurrying to create mini art installations with their produce that will tempt and inspire their buyers. Dark green bunches of chard sit next to robust radishes. Jars of pickled okra, jalapenos, and shishitos stand in a line as sunlight dances through the brine and makes them glow. Cheerful peppers of every color and the long fingers of carrots are all perfectly staged to catch the hungry imagination of shoppers. Their hand-crafted ‘Amber Waves Farm’ sign, a stenciled white-washed pallet, is propped up and proudly announces their stall is open and ready for business.

Pickled okra (Image credit: Mallory Samson)

The Bartering That Goes on Behind the Scenes

But before the market is even open, there is a secret booming economy amongst the farmers and artisans where the art of bartering is alive and well. The choicest cuts of meats, salty and tangy bites of cheese, right-out-of the-oven bread, and the jewels of the berry crop are the currency in this delightful underworld in which vendors trade what they have in excess for the enjoyable novelty of foods produced by others.

Preparing for a farmers’ potluck later that night, Katie trades tomatoes for lobsters and Amanda barters kale and eggplant for honey and wine. The bounty and foodshed of the East End is rich and complete.

The Town Green in Montauk hosts the weekly farmers market as well as frequent craft fairs (Image credit: Mallory Samson)

The Growth of Farmers Markets

Amanda and Katie both agree, hands down, that the Montauk Farmers Market is the best one around. When they first joined the farmers market as charter members in 2009, Katie and Amanda were one of six vendors. Now they are one of fifty.

This growth in the market is part of a larger national trend: Montauk is one of nearly 8,000 weekly farmers markets in the country. For many farmers, these weekly markets are the best and sometimes the only way to make sales directly to customers. Katie and Amanda love seeing their regulars each week and being a part of this tight knit, pop-up community of growers and eaters.

Grill pack to-go! Katie displays a sample skewer to give shoppers some inspiration. (Image credit: Mallory Samson)
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Grill pack to-go! Katie displays a sample skewer to give shoppers some inspiration. (Image credit: Mallory Samson)

The Farmers Market Community

The love of growing, making, and sharing food is at the core of this farmers market food community. They confidently encourage chefs and home cooks to experiment with new flavors like the tropical notes of the Goldie husk cherry and the earthy tones of Hakurei turnip.

Katie and Amanda are just as passionate about cooking as they are farming, and they love to tell tales of their food adventures in the kitchen and field. Ask lots questions while you’re at the market! It makes shopping exciting, you get to know your farmer, and you’ll be nourished by the knowledge.

Here are Katie and Amanda’s 10 questions to ask your farmer at the market:

  1. What is your favorite thing you brought to market today?
  2. Can I please sample this?
  3. What did you make for dinner last night?
  4. How do you like to prepare this?
  5. What does this pair well with?
  6. What is the best way to store this?
  7. How long will this be in season?
  8. What new varieties will be coming next week?
  9. Can you please tell me about your farming practices?
  10. Can I grow this at home?
Briermere Farms is well-represented at the market. (Image credit: Mallory Samson)

Farmers and food artisans vow to bring their best wares each week and the public has proved with their patronage that they want it as part of their community. For shoppers, the farmers market consistently offers fresher, higher quality seasonal produce than what’s offered at the grocery store.

It’s a magical world to be a part of, and from visiting on this sultry August morning, I can understand why Katie and Amanda consider it to be one of the most enjoyable parts of their week.

A New Generation on the Farm is a season-long exploration of the work at Amber Waves Farm, and it is a partnership between The Kitchn, photographer Mallory Samson, and the Peconic Land Trust. Founded in 1983, the Peconic Land Trust conserves Long Island’s working farms, natural lands, and heritage. This is the first in a series about first generation farmers the Trust is working with to ensure that protected farmland is used for farming on Long Island’s East End.

Photographer: Mallory Samson

Mallory Samson is a storyteller who uses photographs. Mallory was a former Fashion Editor at J. Crew and Photography Editor at Nike. Mallory’s photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and she has authored two books featuring her photographs. Mallory has been a professional photographer for 17 years and lives in Southampton, New York.