Sunny, clear skies and unseasonably warm temperatures graced the final Bushwick Farmers’ Market of the season last Saturday at Maria Hernandez Park, where farm-fresh produce was still to be found in abundance alongside vendors offering artisanal goods made right here in Bushwick. Reflecting on the close of the farmers’ market’s fifth season, Bushwick Farmers’ Market Manager Apprentice Stephanie Box noted that this year saw the continued expansion of the flagship Saturday market. “Last year it year was maybe like half this size,” she recalled, “but now we’re really kind of taking over the block.” Even at the end of the season, the market’s row of pitched tents covered half the length of the southwest side of the park on Knickerbocker Avenue. Though we here at Bushwick Daily are sad to see the market go into its annual hibernation, we’ve been pleased to watch it grow and thrive over the years.
Perhaps what we love most about the farmers’ market, aside from it being a fresher, more sustainable alternative to your local Food Bazaar, are the encounters with unfamiliar items you’re not likely to find at the supermarket that often reflect the Latin character of our neighborhood. Take pasote, for example, an herb that Maritza de Rodriguez of La Baraja Farm was selling alongside the typical root vegetables and hardy greens of the fall harvest. Also known as “epazote” or “pazote”, it is used commonly in its native Mexico both for culinary and medicinal purposes. Maritza suggests using it to season beans (many sources claim it helps counteract their gas-producing tendencies) and other Mexican dishes, such as quesadillas and chilate de pollo. Medicinally, she said pazote can be used to make tea to relieve stomach aches, and can be eaten raw to boost brainpower and enhance memory. It would be wise to nibble, though, since the raw herb’s flavor is “as strong as a shot of tequila!” as Maritza warned gleefully in Spanish.
One customer asked about another herb the farm sometimes offers but wasn’t currently in stock: ruda, or rue, which Maritza hears many of her customers claim has mystical power to cleanse the spirit and bring good fortune. She herself was skeptical. “I’m not sure if it’s true, but when somebody tells you something enough times, you believe it,” she said. When it’s available again next year, we might grab some just in case.
Medicinal plants and herbs were also on display at Wassaic Community Farm’s stand, where they were the main attraction. Farmer Ben Schwartz filled bags of dried herbs for medicinal teas as he bantered with customers in Spanish. He offered samples of the brewed teas: colorful elixirs made from nettles, burdock root, and mint, and a yarrow-hyssop blend, which he said helps fight off colds. Located in Wassaic, New York, at the end of the Metro North’s Harlem line, Wassaic Community Farm is a food justice-oriented farm that, among other projects, does outreach with youth in the South Bronx, offers community supported agriculture (CSA) shares here in Brooklyn, and leases plots to people in their community who want to try farming. Next year they plan to offer classes on growing medicinal herbs.
Not only did we discover produce at the season’s last farmers’ market that you’re not likely to see in supermarkets, we also met vendors offering hyper-local treats that you actually may not find anywhere else. Bushwick-based Thick Bakery doesn’t yet have a store, but started selling at the market a few weeks ago. Caroline Bates, who works full time at a city financial reporting agency, started the bakery as a passion project with her friend Rachel Rho. They offer baked sweets like mini-cookies and scones and specialty popcorns made with ingredients like bourbon and sriracha sauce that sound downright addictive. Brooklyn Covo, a Bushwick woodworking and crafts shop, was selling gluten-free Japanese baked goods out of beautiful, antique looking wooden display cases. We love that the farmers’ market is able to provide opportunities for small, local food startups such as these to bring their products to the public.
There’s nothing like a visit to our local farmers’ market to break us out of our stale alimentary routines. Bushwick Farmers’ Market will return in June next year. In the meantime, feast your eyes on these photos of some of the season’s last harvests.