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Refire: Clinton Bailey Farmers Market

–Refire is restaurant lingo used to describe food that is returned to
the kitchen. Here on Buffalo Rising, it will define an occasional
Saturday post that revisits an interesting food story from the Buffalo
Rising archives.

This post ran in October of 2007, a time before the word “locavore” had yet to officially enter the American vocabulary and where the trend of “eating local” had just begun to surface in Western New York–that is, apart from the people, like many of our grandparents and great-grandparents, who knew the virtues of the concept long before it was pushed aside in favor of our current system. For me, this experience at the market and the relationships it began to build mark the beginning of a personal journey, which included becoming a vocal proponent of the local food movement and co-founding a non-profit whose original intention was to connect farmers to buyers. Today, it is with great hope and excitement that we can look upon Buffalo as an area which has really begun to embrace local food, both in its restaurants, grocery stores and at its increasing number of farmers markets and CSAs. I hope you enjoy reading this piece as much as I did writing it. It’s a beautiful (albeit chilly) fall morning, so maybe it will inspire you to power down your computer and get out and visit your local farmers market for fresh bread, eggs, apple cider, potatoes and squash.

Before dawn on a warm September morning, farmers stand with boxes of colorful produce at their feet, lit by pools of bright light cast from the single bulbs that line the lengthy wooden shelter. Small trucks backed up to the structure with their doors flung wide re­veal rows and rows of produce; peaches in bushel baskets, racks of muskmelons, and cases of peppers.

It’s a typical Tuesday at the Niagara Frontier Grower’s Co-operative Market, most commonly referred to as the Clinton Bailey Farmers Market. Since 1931, farmers have traveled great distances to arrive in the early hours of the morning at the market, located in the heart of Buffalo’s industrial food district. The pre-dawn wholesale business used to be conducted six days a week, but in the last few decades the changes in farm­ing and the decrease in demand for fresh produce has translated into a massive reduction in the number of farmers that buy, sell and trade at the market. They now make the trek to Buffalo’s East Side only three days per week.

Most of the farmers here come from family farms that have been passed down through generations, a few of them even recall coming to the market as children during its heyday in the 40s and 50s. Back then, competition was stiff and farm­ers arrived early to make sure that they could get a stall. Al Fox of WBEN would broadcast from the market, announcing what was in season and what it cost.  Remembering how busy the market used to be, Tony Weiss of Weiss Farms recalled, “When I was, oh, knee-high to a grasshopper, I remember having to go to the bathroom but being scared I wouldn’t be able to find my way back.”

At that time, our city, like so many others, was brimming with small grocers and independent restaurants, looking to provide their customers with the freshest produce available at a good price. Today only a few such businesses shop at the market; Sam Guercio of Guercio & Sons is there almost every morning, along with Mark Hutchinson of Hutch’s restaurant.

Today, most people buy their groceries from large supermarket chains that, in many cases, ship their produce in from thousands of miles away–produce that has most likely been genetically engineered, treated with pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, and is often picked too early to prevent spoilage during its long journey from places as far away as South America. Glenn Sanger of Sanger Farms has been coming to the market for 32 years. He specializes in peaches, but also grows apples, cherries and concord grapes. “Ten years ago, the farm papers told us that Free Trade would hurt the farmers first and the manufacturers second, but it was really the other way around. It’s only been in the last few years that we’ve felt that part of the business really affect us.”
As the need for single purchases of large quantities of fruits and vegetables has lessened, our region’s farmers have found alternative ways to keep their farms afloat. In the last few years, the Clinton Bailey Wholesale Market has seen an increase in business. Farmers have found that the retail stands they run on their own farms are increasingly profitable. They often buy crops from their peers that they themselves don’t grow in order to offer their customers a broader selection. The popularity of city farmers markets has also increased their business; most of the farmers found at Clinton Bailey in the early morning also sell their produce at one or more of the area markets, including Elmwood Bidwell, the Downtown Country Market, North Tonawanda’s City Market and Clinton Bailey’s Saturday morning retail market.

Restaurants and home cooks are looking for specialty items with growing regularity, and farmers are listening to their customers and adjusting their crops in response to special requests. The nationwide surge in demand for specialty fruits and vegetables has opened up a niche market for many of them. As evidence of this, we spotted baskets of poblano peppers, yellow grape tomatoes and mini bell peppers, all new additions to local fields.
Jim Parise, manager of the Clinton Bailey Farmers’ Market, along with his board of directors and stockholders, has inspired and effected great change in the market over the last few years. The market grounds and restrooms are spotless, colorful signs have been hung and landscaping added. “We’ve made giant steps to increase the family environment here, to make it a pleasant experience for all of our customers. In today’s market people want aesthetics, they want service…we’re offering that.” Every year farmers find more and more customers making the drive to the retail market from surrounding counties and taking home wares from the more than 40 purveyors that set up shop on Saturdays.

“There’s a steady increase of awareness amongst the public,” Parise told Buffalo Rising. “Eating local is so much safer. Anything can happen during the importation process when you bring food in from other countries. Not only is eating local produce safer and healthier, it is also a catalyst for economic change.”

Clinton Bailey Farmers Market

1443 Clinton Street, Buffalo

Winter Hours (Nov 1 – April 30):
Saturday 6 AM – 1 PM

Summer Hours (May 1 – Oct 31):

Sunday – Friday 7 AM – 6 PM 

Saturday 6 AM – 6 PM

Summer Hours (May 1 – Oct 31):

Saturday,Tuesday,Thursday:4:30AM – 7:30 AM

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