The Union Square Greenmarket has been around since 1976. It is part of a group of about 50 farmers markets, collectively known as GrowNYC, that are stationed all over the city. You can find them in all five boroughs and everything they sell is locally grown. Greenmarkets benefit both the producers and New Yorkers. Back in the ’70s and ’80s Union Square was quite a scene; you could catch Bill Cunningham snapping his iconic photos for the Times there. Now you are just as likely to see chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants and other local chefs along with local residents.
The market has grown a lot. There are over 100 vendors that sell there four days a week. The cast of suppliers varies day by day, and you never know what you will find. It is a foodie paradise of seasonal produce, meats, fish, flowers, and a ton of other products. Union Square offers the largest variety of producers, but the smaller markets are wonderful places to shop locally, too. Going green is the only way to grow.
The Market wraps around two sides of Union Square Park. When you enter from the south the first thing you see after the chess players is a group of stalls selling local arts and crafts. While not technically part of GrowNYC, they are a nice addition. Pre-Covid there was a locally run dog and cat adoption space.
There are signs at several of the entrances that spell out the rules of the market. 99% 0f the shoppers were masked up and very polite about distancing. They are much more polite than the shoppers in my local supermarket. The biggest change is that no one except the vendors is allowed to touch any produce. One of my personal favorite farms is Hudson Valley Duck Farm. Aside from a very good confit, they also sell duck barbacoa, perfect for tacos, and duck salami and bacon, along with magrets and whole ducks.
Dispensers full of hand sanitizers are placed around the Market.
Different vendors sell on different days. Union Square has markets on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The GrowNYC website has lists and maps of each day. Once you know your favorite producers you can find out when they will be there. There are many local seafood purveyors with different kind of fish and shellfish. They come from Long Island and upstate. Steelhead features steelhead trout.
Lucky Dog offers a variety of fruits and vegetables. And dogs, of course, are welcome in this market.
Roaming Acres sells many different kinds of meat. Ostrich is certainly the most exotic. Apparently it tastes like beef, but the birds do not emit any methane (like cows) and is leaner.
There are all sorts of different vendors of meats.
Scattered around the market are winemakers, craft beer vendors, and distilleries. New York State allowed spirits to be sold at greenmarkets in 2017. The state wants to support all the local businesses that have sprung up around the state.
You will also find the best seasonal produce here. In August, tomatoes, watermelons, fruits and vegetables are big. Come winter, there is a much smaller selection of produce.
There are many dairy producers. Milk, cheeses and extremely fresh eggs are for sale. The greenmarkets have given local farming a big shot in the arm. Farm to table food is a dining trend that is likely to be with us for a long time. Non-industrial farming produces healthier and better-tasting food.
Along with all the produce, there are also vendors who make all sorts of different good things. Sauces, jams, and jellies. There are also homemade pretzels from the stand at the back.
This distillery has a small stand. Tastings are allowed on Saturdays, so if you want to get a buzz on and shop, that would be the day to do it.
Home-grown honey is much better than mass-produced honey. And depending on where the bees are grazing, honey can taste different. Clover honey tastes different than acacia honey. It is a science.
If you are a knitter, Catskill Merino Farms has a range of yarns. Merino sheep produce the finest wool, and the diet of the sheep defines how soft the wool is. This farm feeds their sheep only the best blades of grass!
There are a few mushroom suppliers in the market, and they are seasonal. Selling mushrooms and meat together makes perfect sense.
Orange County Distillery makes whiskies, rye, gin and other good things. They grow all the grains, and produce everything on their farm. Shopping locally supports these artisans.
Lavender By The Bay sells all sorts of products made from lavender. You can also buy their products online.
There are rope barriers around this stand. That is to keep the customers from touching the produce. GrowNYC is serious about protecting its vendors and customers.
Along with a small selection of fruits and vegetables, this producer offers popsicles made from real fruit. A delightful way to cool down on a hot day. Remember FrozFruit? These are better!
The selection in the Union Square market is huge. Here is yet another distiller and a meat supplier.
Breads, rolls, cakes, cookies, cupcakes and all sorts of baked goods are locally produced. The city has lost so many of its bakeries due to rising rents, but you can find a great selection of all sorts of goodies.
Fresh cut flowers are available almost all year round. These are not the sort of flowers you find in your local deli or in a florist’s shop. Take home flower garden and wildflower flowers that are all local.
There are stands that sell nothing but greens, salads, herbs and micro greens. They are so much tastier than what you find in your local supermarket, and are not sealed into plastic bags. “Do not Touch” signs are posted in most of the stands.
You can also find houseplants most days. In the spring annual flowers are sold to be planted on terraces and in gardens and window boxes in the city.
Oak Grove Plantation is a popular farm. People line up beside the cones, and when it is your turn the employees will pick up what you point to. It is sort of contact-less shopping.
This stand is always busy, too. I was on the hunt for peaches, and I found some here. I knew they must be good, as bees and wasps were buzzing around the fruits.
Hawthorne Valley Farm is another supplier of many types of baked goods. They offer gluten free items and are very popular.
The vendors mean “No Touching”. There was surprisingly not a whole lot of corn on sale. This is one of the few farms that had some.
Bread Alone offers quotes from Cervantes and Nelson Mandela along with a huge range of organic breads, pies, croissants, scones, muffins and more.
There are smaller markets scattered around the city. There used to be one in Rockefeller Center, by the rink. It will be opening again soon when more offices are open. The smaller markets are normally open one or two days a week. This one is called 82nd Street at St. Stephens and is located between First Avenue and York on Saturdays.
Some of the vendors sell in many of the markets around town. Hudson Valley Duck Farm is one of them.
Samaskott Orchards from Columbia County has a long line. Like some other vendors, they currently hang mesh curtains to keep people from touching the produce.
Flowers, fish, meats, breads, milk, eggs along with other produce suppliers are located here.
Tribeca has a market on Wednesday and Saturday. It’s located on Greenwich Street between Chambers and Duane Streets, and has a handful of vendors.
Organic produce, turkey, fish, baked goods, duck cheeses and more are offered here.
These two stands offer chicken and pasture-raised beef. Again, you won’t find products like this in any supermarket. GrowNYC has done a great job of organizing these local markets so New Yorkers can eat fresh food and find healthier products.
What’s not to like about shopping local? Check out the GrowNYC website. There are greenmarkets all over the city. Downtown, Midtown and Uptown on both sides of the park. Make your life better with tasty fresh food, and support local farmers in New York State. It is a win-win situation.
Barbara Hodes is the owner of NYC Private Shopping Tour, offering customized tours in New York and Brooklyn