Who Are Your Favorite Farmers at Farmers' Markets?

"Farmers connect serious eaters to food in an incredibly personal and important way."

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Ron Binaghi, Sr. of Stokes Farms in New Jersey, a regular at the Union Square Greenmarket since 1976.

Lately I've been obsessed with the Greenmarkets in New York City and beyond. No matter where I go in the country, I find myself compelled to visit the local greenmarkets or farmers' market. After spending the better part of the last three weekends hanging out at them, I have come to one inescapable conclusion: Farmers are heroes for Serious Eaters. We must do everything we can to insure their survival, especially given the adverse growing conditions they are coping with this year (at least in the northeast). Support your local farmers' market this summer. They need serious eaters more than ever.

Why do I say these things? Five reasons.

The Seasonal Deliciousness

The first reason is patently obvious. They supply us with more in-season serious deliciousness than any other group of people I can think of. Close your eyes and consider the last great apple or peach you ate, or the last great tomatoes you sliced and served with fresh mozzarella, basil, a splash of olive oil, and a hit of sea salt. Chances are you bought that apple, peach, or tomato at a farmers' market or a farm stand. Or maybe you grew it yourself. At the greenmarkets I frequent, I can also buy terrific grass-fed beef, heritage pork, artisanal bread, mussels and clams from local waters, farmstead cheeses, and even the aforementioned mozzarella to pair with the tomatoes.

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The Land Connection

The food they grow helps make or keep all serious eaters healthier or healthy. Whether they grow organically or conventionally, farmers are responsible, careful stewards of the land. As a group they take great pride in what they do, knowing their responsibilities to serious eaters. They are the leaders of sustainable agriculture. Their work sustains us, the land, and the culture as a whole.

The Hard Work

They work ridiculously hard so that we can eat more seriously delicious food. I recently spent 24 hours with one greenmarket farmer, Rick Bishop of Mountain Sweet Berry Farms. These folks really bring it work-wise. Most months of the year Greenmarket farmers work 14 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

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The Risks

The risks that farmers take are not commensurate with their rewards. In business school I learned about the relationship between risk and reward—the more financial risk you take, the greater financial reward you should potentially make. But farmers work on very low margins that are put at risk by mother nature.

All the rain in New York state (20 days in June alone) has put many of our best farmers underwater. One farmer, Jim Kent of Locust Grove Farm in Milton, New York, whose family has been farming the same Hudson Valley land for four centuries, told me that his entire tomato crop is at risk because of all the rain. Jim wasn't at his customary spot at the Greenmarket at 66th and Broadway on Saturday because he was tending to his crop.

Now "late blight" is destroying crop after crop at organic farms all over the east coast. And even conventional growers doing lots of spraying may not be able to save their crops. Late blight is very destructive. Julia Moskin wrote a heartbreaking piece on this subject last week in the New York Times.

The Personal Connection

Farmers connect serious eaters to food in an incredibly personal and important way. When we buy our food from the people that grow it, all parties to the transaction— farmers, serious eaters, chefs—are equally enriched by the experience.

In the coming weeks, we're going to put the Serious Eats spotlight on some of the farmer heroes all over America. But we want to hear from all of you: who are your favorite farmers at your local farmers' market?

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