CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — One doesn’t have to be a restaurant critic to know there’s something special about meals made with fresh ingredients right from the garden.
With the hot days of summer here, communities around the region are beginning to see the results of area farmers’ patience with a wet spring as their farm products arrive at produce stands and farmer’s markets.
The Clifton Park Farmer’s Market is held every Monday from early June to late October in the parking lot of the Shenendehowa United Methodist Church, 971 Route 146. The market’s regular hours are 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. but for July and August, the eight “farmers” have agreed to extend their hours to 5:30 p.m. to accommodate commuters.
The abundance of parking in the church lot, the variety of items being sold, and the friendly atmosphere make it an easy way to add something special to the dinner table.
The market offers fresh produce from four local farms, a vendor who specially selects ingredients to make a variety of soups or a slow-cooked meal, one chocolatier, and two caterers who offer home-style dinners, entrees, baked goods, and side dishes to take away.
“We’ve got a couple of special things happening next Monday, July 22,” said market manager Lori Kokinda of Kokinda Farms. “We’re having a Taste of the Market, where I’ll get some of our farmers’ produce and cook them up in different dishes so people can get a taste of some different things they can do with our products. We’re also raffling off a gift basket of products from our farmers.”
As an extra benefit to those seniors more than 65 years old, representatives from Saratoga County will also be at the market that day with coupons for seniors to use for products from the farmers.
By late afternoon Monday, the business was light but steady as customers parked their cars and moved straight toward booths they were familiar with.
“We came back for the apple one,” Pat Messing told Kokinda as she took a closer look at the stack of jams. “It was so delicious. We came back for that and the cousa squash.”
“It’s Apple Pie Jam and it was wonderful,” added Messing’s husband Steven.
Kokinda’s farm in Mechanicville had Chinese cabbage, escarole, small pearl onions, summer squash, yellow squash, cousa and baby squash, gooseberries, and eight varieties of jam for sale this day.
Next to Kokinda was Jason Heitman, the owner, and operator of the 100 percent organic, all-natural, Green Jeans Market Farm. Heitman had sold out of slicer cucumbers, but still had bunches of carrots, kohlrabi, kale, Swiss chard, scallions and heads and heads of lettuce.
“I’ve got Boston lettuce, green butter leaf lettuce, red butter leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, and a couple varieties of summer crisp and romaine,” he said. “The greens are the thing that sell the best; especially the lettuce. Lettuce people are a thing unto themselves. They teach me things I didn’t know.”
At the table filled with produce from the Butternut Ridge Farm of Argyle, co-owner Debbie Stevens took time to discuss what she had for sale not just from her farm but from her perennial garden.
“The blueberries and blackberries are selling well and I’ve got kirby cukes which can be used for pickling, cousa squash, which is a Syrian squash, peppers, potatoes, and jars of raw honey,” she said. “The wet spring was difficult. I couldn’t get in there.”
At the far end of the row of booths was Halls Pond Farm of Greenwich owned by the Tallmadge family. This family farm with its snap beans, green beans, blueberries, cucumbers, and squash had everyone taking a turn assisting the customers including the kids.
“Next week, hopefully, we’re looking at having fresh garlic,” said Brian Talmadge. “Fresh garlic is quite a bit different from what people are used to buying in the stores. When it’s in season people that use garlic regularly are always happy to see it.”
In between the farmers’ stands was the booth for the Saratoga Chocolate Company with its chocolate bark, chocolate bars, and several jars of hot chocolate mix for the winter months.
“We’ve got milk chocolate, toasted chocolate, toasted sesame, salted caramel, latté, our blackout bar made of dark chocolate, and the Bodhi bar,” said Karen Houlahan. “The Bodhi bar is named for the owner’s rescue dog and has milk chocolate, quinoa, and puffed brown rice.”
One of the more interesting tables at the market was that for the Healthy Gourmet Kitchen, a business owned by Mary Song Tedisco. Tedisco creates recipes for soup starters, slow-cooked entrees, rubs, seasonings, and dips, then gets all the spices and seasonings and packages them for sale at Farmer’s Markets like the one in Clifton Park.
The two caterers at the Farmer’s Market, the Food Florist of Ballston Spa and Home Style Caterers of Schenectady, allow customers to pick up a full meal or a side order to take home.
Where the Food Florist’s items like pot pies, quiches, lasagna, cheesy chicken bake, and enchilada casseroles were ready and waiting in four freezers in the company’s van, those manning the counter for Home Style Caterers were dishing out steaming hot stuffed peppers and ground beef and rice, meatball and chicken parm subs, four-cheese ziti, stuffed meatballs, lasagna, stromboli, sausage and onions, and eggplant tomato bruschetta.
“We’re small, but we’re a happy bunch,” Kokinda said.