September 25, 2003

Back to the Garden

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When I casually mentioned to a friend that I was planning a trip to the farmer’s market, she looked deep into my eyes and said the word “Wegman’s” like it was the last chance for salvation standing between me and total insanity. Although I am just as guilty as most in the flagrant dependency on all things commercially homogenized, the thrift of a trip to the local convenience store can in no way compare to the unique experience of my first farmers market. Overall, its distinctly regional flavor proved to be a rejuvenating break from the eat-sleep-study drudgery of our average school week.

Easily accessible even for the vehicle deprived (one transfer between Routes 30 and 16), the Ithaca Farmers Market finds its home on Third Street off of Route 13. Verdant arbors and gravel paths surround the market’s waterfront setting, giving it a secluded feel perfect for a relaxing weekend morning. Entering the communal atmosphere was like traveling back in time to simpler days while browsing through the vendors felt like taking a satisfying bite of some metaphorical, homemade apple pie.

Truly an Ithacan experience, the farmer’s market has been flourishing for thirty years and continues to evolve. “I come for the vibrant atmosphere,” says Andrea Kmicikewycz ’04, and her words ring true when taking into account the numerous specialty items and interactive elements of the market. Besides the produce, crafts, and cuisine, the market also offers boat tours of Cayuga Lake as well as live music.

While munching on an old-fashioned apple flavored doughnut (a must-have food item that proves quite tempting by being $5 per dozen), I suddenly heard the strains of an upbeat song. The performers were The Crooners, whose sound, according to member Nyles Fitzgerald, is “a blend of folk, blues, swing, and rock n’ roll.”

“We’re retracing the schools of music and mixing the old with the new,” said Nyles. Composed of Cornell alumni Chris Merkley ’01 on guitar and harmonica, Nyles ’02 on washtub bass and current senior “Hambone” Jenny Grauer ’04 on vocals, The Crooners have traveled across the globe to do street performances in environments similar to the Ithaca market. Fresh from a current trip to Paris, the group had its first home performance at the market, a place that according to Nyles, “is ideal for acoustic instruments.”

Perhaps what makes shopping at the market such a unique experience is the cultural and historically enriching background behind many of the vendors. “My family has been growing fruit for over 200 years,” says Marie Baumgardener of the Ely Fruit Farms. Baumgardener later instructed me in the correct way of eating wine grapes after my tell tale amateur inquiry for seedless grapes. You must first hold the grape between your thumb and middle finger. Then, squeeze the skin and pop the grape into your mouth. Swish the grape around and swallow. With this method, the seeds are obsolete since you won’t even taste them.

Unique in the goods they sold, all the vendors were more than happy to tell the story behind each of their respective businesses. Specialty items are a common concept to Blanche Belliveau of Blanche’s Scratch Bakery. Does a certain medical condition prevent you from eating certain foods? Belliveau’s baked goods could be just the answer for any dessert angst you might have. Having been a baker for more than 42 years, Belliveau now specializes in sugar-free, gluten-free baked goods for allergy sufferers. I shamelessly tasted the various samples Belliveau laid out for customers. After a bite of her pecan squares (made with rice flour, potato flour, tapioca and soymilk instead of traditional cream) and a nibble of her almond rounds, I was completely sold on her method of baking. “They also have less calories,” Belliveau said with a smile and I knew I’d stumbled on a goldmine. Hailing from Jacksonville, Belliveau is a newcomer to the market, having only started the August of this year to be a regular participant.

Wendy Ives, however, is a third year veteran of the market. The co-owner of 17th Century Suds, her specialty lies in making all-natural body care items. “There are no artificial ingredients, only essential oils with flowers used for color,” said Ives. Popular soaps include lemon grass, lavender and English garden, all of which lack the “f-word” (fragrance oils) that characterize many commercial products.

This handcrafted/all-natural theme resonates strongly at the market. Raw foods are the headliners of Flower of Life Raw Foods. “Raw is natural and it just makes you feel good,” says Lael Eisman of Flower of Life. According to Lael, working with food by cooking takes energy away from them, which results in fewer nutrients. “Besides,” Eisman adds, “no other animal in the world cooks its food.”

In yet another example of the Market’s penchant for hand made crafts, printed shirts from Silk Oak are individually made with original designs, which results in every shirt being unique. According to Jan Rhodes Norman of Silk Oak, every shirt is hand-dyed and printed with environmentally friendly colors. After a special printing that involves no inking or pressing, the shirts go through a laundering process, which gives the shirts their distinctive feel.

Aside from the main draw of shopping, the market place also serves as a social atmosphere. “It’s a nice place to meet people you don’t usually have a chance to see,” says Ithaca native Blair Tilly, who has been visiting the market for four years. Echoing his sentiments, senior Rachel Goldberg ’04 enjoys coming to the market because “the people are so friendly.”

A wonderful combination of food and fun, the Ithaca Farmers Market is a hidden gem amid the bustle of everyday life. The natural, wholesome theme prevalent throughout the market fosters a sense of old fashioned, homegrown goodness that our modern lives usually lack. With unique vendors specializing in multiple products as well as live entertainment, the marketplace creates a close-knit, communal atmosphere perfect for relaxing recreation. Perhaps best articulated by senior Melissa Wei ’04, “Everyone should visit before they graduate.”

Archived article by Tracy Zhang

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