The Ryder Farm stand at the Union Square Farmers Market is immediately recognizable by its colorful banner, hand-hewn wooden shelving and wicker baskets neatly organizing the products on offer, as well as the beautiful “Flowers From My Garden” arrangements, named so customers can honestly tell admirers who ask about them that they are “from my garden.” Though smaller than the many folding table/container truck operations you see at New York’s flagship farmers market, which was founded in 1976 and boasts, on an average day, around 75 different vendors, Ryder Farm stands out as the heart of Union Square.
The over 200-year-old farm in Brewster, N.Y., is a true family operation, run now by the founder’s great-great-great-grandchildren, Betsy and John Ryder. Unlike many of the smaller stands, which specialize in a few select crops, Ryder Farm runs the gamut of what’s seasonally available, from fresh-cut herbs to tomatoes, a variety of gem-like chili peppers (helpfully labeled “Betsey’s Favorites,” melons, zucchini and leafy greens—everything that tastes of pure summer that home chefs will be longing for come January.
We spoke with David Weisberger, one of the farmworkers who mans the stand every Saturday, to learn more about the Union Square experience and find out what veggies to make one last dash for before they disappear for the season.
Tell me about your involvement with the Union Square Farmers Market.
The farmers have been coming since 1978—we were the first organic vendors here at Union Square. We don’t go to any other markets in the city. We run a big CSA in the middle of the week, so that splits our efforts. We’re in lower southern Putnam County, just north of Westchester, and we serve about 80 families in the area every Wednesday. The only other big marketing opportunity for the farm is this market on Saturdays.
Do you feel like there’s a difference between your customers through the CSA and the ones here at the market?
You get a better sense of people’s characters working here [at the market], it’s a different relationship. A little bit friendlier—just a bit more open.
Do you have a lot of regulars who come down?
Definitely. Every weekend we have our cast of characters, different people who always come down. On Wednesdays [at the CSA pickup] there’ll be a few people we know, but we’re so busy working—field work, transplanting—that the interactions are at a minimum.
It’s always fun when we get chefs—we’re always impressed and we’re dreaming that they’ll bring us some sort of delicious snack, but they never do! David Bouley [chef and owner of several Tribeca restaurants including Bouley and the recently opened Brushstroke] came by and was really—he was a very hardcore guy.
What did he get?
He came two months ago—I remember it well, because he was so intense. He got scapes and tons of peppermint. This time he came, he got a bunch of herbs and then peppermint again. I guess he’s really into peppermint!
There’s another chef who comes often from WD-50. The last time he came, he got a bunch of lovage from us, which is a weird perennial crop that we probably wouldn’t have done anything with otherwise. People don’t really know what to do with it.
There’s another guy who comes—he’s not a chef, he’s just a regular guy, but he’ll come in waves. He’ll come once really early, and then an hour later, and then again another hour after that.
Does he get the same thing every time?
No, he’ll mix it up. He likes a lot of different things. He’s always here, though. Every weekend.
Probably our best customers are this couple—they’re probably the only people who use these baskets that you see [among the decorations at the stand are two red reed baskets hanging above the cash register]—they always come and buy $60-$70 worth of produce for the week. They’re really Ryder Farm fans!
What’s your growing season?
The CSA started end of May/early June. When the first frost kills off a bunch of the fruit crops—the tomatoes and peppers and eggplant—then it’s really going to start to slow down. We’ll be here another four, five weeks max. The CSA ends in two weeks, so we’re definitely in the downward slope of the season.
What do you have out here that you’re not going to have in another week or two?
We’re not going to have cucumbers for sure, and the tomatoes are starting to slowly diminish. It’s been so wet, I don’t see the tomatoes happening for much longer.
Purslane has been really popular this year, and we won’t have any more of it because it’s not hot and dry enough now. It’s something a little weird that just really caught on with people. We’re sad to see it go because it’s basically a weed, so we don’t have to weed the crops, which is nice!
Beyond that—the tomatillos might have another three, four weeks max. I doubt they’ll make it much longer.
So by the end of your stay here at Union Square it’s going to be all squash all the time?
Yep, a lot of winter squash!
The watermelon we have out now shouldn’t have been harvested so early—we had to bring them in because of the weather, so instead of vine-ripened we’ve had to ripen them by putting hay around them inside. The nice thing is that we had plenty of them to give to our CSA—they’re like the golden fleece for CSA members. Usually the market gets most of them.
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