A Hamden woman walks up to a table and gasps as if she’d just seen a ghost. “You have sorrel!” she shrieks, holding her hand to her heart, nearly losing her breath. She had fallen in love at first taste with these gorgeous greens on a recent trip to France.
Nearby, carving a path through the parade of pooches on leashes and double-wide strollers, two classy seniors in colorful, wide-brimmed hats and even wider grins step up to another table to get their “usual,” which turns out to be six vegan, gluten-free biscotti.
A few tables down, a cookie baker slips a steady stream of his unique samples, one after the other, into the palms of two willing tasters: roasted leek, “Pinkki” (rosewater with cranberry), smoked yellow onion, lavender and “Krakatoa,” the latter declared a favorite by these tasters due to its flavorful layers of chocolate, orange and cardamom that gradually reveal themselves not unlike one of Willy Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstoppers.
Welcome to the CitySeed Farmers’ Market at Wooster Square, held every Saturday through December. It’s one of five CitySeed markets held in New Haven every week, each with its own distinct vibe. Market Manager Keren Kurti-Alexander especially loves the “amazing variety of products” at the Wooster Square market. In addition to an abundance of beautiful produce, you’ll find everything from milk and yogurt (free of added growth hormones) to handcrafted vanilla extract, nitrate-free hot dogs, dog biscuits, soaps, yarn and more—all to a soundtrack of local music. And don’t be daunted by the dizzying display of roots and greens; if you see a veggie you’ve never heard of, the farmers are happy to tell you about it, and may even offer you a sample.
As Kurti-Alexander singles out Wooster Square’s variety, she easily identifies something she loves about each market: Edgewood Park’s picturesque setting for “a family day out and picnic, including great trees for climbing”; the downtown market which “offers a lot in a central location”; The Hill market, “a quick lunchtime getaway with its own special energy”; and the Fair Haven market in Quinnipiac River Park for its “tranquil riverside location, great for an al fresco dinner.”
While each market is unique, all of them share at least one thing in common: they inspire a passion among market-goers for homegrown goods. “Our farmers’ markets help people think more about the food they eat when they meet the people that grow and produce it,” notes Executive Director, Nicole Berube. “People are more thoughtful about what they eat in general, whether they are in a grocery store, a restaurant, or growing their own garden. I am really proud that CitySeed’s markets have been part of the redefinition of what helps make a local food system work in New Haven.”
Berube (who’s been at CitySeed since 2006 and its Executive Director for the past two-and-a-half years) has a personal passion for organic farming that first took root nine years ago as a volunteer at Urban Oaks Organic Farm in New Britain. She loved it so much she quit her day job to seek a farm apprenticeship, and landed at a small family farm in Hawaii that grew coffee, fruits and vegetables. Berube “fell in love with the farm, the island and most importantly, food,” she says. Berube also gained first-hand insight on “how hard a farm family has to work to make a living, and the diversity of skills they must have to compete in the marketplace.” After Hawaii, Berube returned to Urban Oaks before coming to CitySeed. “After working in the nonprofit and farming worlds, I wanted an opportunity that combined them both, that could benefit both the community and the farming world.”
In addition to supporting farmers, CitySeed is about increasing community access to healthy foods. In 2004, CitySeed was the first farmers’ market in Connecticut to accept SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) benefits on EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards, which led to the USDA awarding CitySeed a “Golden Grocer Award” in 2007.
CitySeed embraces change and innovation in other ways. New to the Markets this year are vendors Sixpence Pie Company, Savor Fine Foods, Liquid Lunch, The Land, Red Lentil, Roses for Autism, Sticky Nutz and green well Organic Coffee and Tea. You will also find cooking and canning demos almost every week. Later this season, look for CitySeed’s mobile market, a collaboration with Common Ground High School, making stops in the West Rock, West River and Newhallville neighborhoods. Also on the horizon, CitySeed will host a chef cook-off at the Wooster Square market on September 22 to tie in with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Farm-to-Chef Week (during which more than 80 restaurants statewide offer special menus featuring Connecticut-grown ingredients).
Though both Berube and Kurti-Alexander are veteran produce pros, the markets offer such a vibrant variety, even they have found new favorites this year. For Kurti-Alexander, that’s been “hakurei turnips. They look like a small white radish, and are delicious raw or sliced in a salad.”
Berube has recently “discovered the wonders of raw kale salads! I especially like it with an avocado and lemon dressing, with sliced red onions, cashews and salt and pepper.” Kurti-Alexander jumps in with her approach to kale: “Chop it finely, sprinkle some lemon juice on top, toss and let it sit for a while, then add it to your favorite salad. Raw greens are also great in a fruit smoothie.”
Besides raw kale, Berube recommends Northfordy Farm’s “amazing pawpaws, shaped like a mango, and when ripe taste like a custard-y tropical, banana-mango mix. I also recommend heirloom tomatoes, especially the dark, purple-ish tomatoes which have an almost smoky flavor. And if you haven’t eaten fresh corn raw, you are missing out!”
CitySeed Farmers’ Markets
Wooster Square | Edgewood Park | Downtown | Fair Haven | The Hill Market
Written and photographed by Kathleen Cei.