With dozens of locations in all five boroughs of New York City, including its most famous market in Manhattan’s Union Square, Greenmarket (operated by the nonprofit GrowNYC) connects farmers and producers with professional and home cooks seeking the best in local food. In The New Greenmarket Cookbook, Gabrielle Langholtz, who worked for Greenmarket for eight years as a special projects manager and is now the editor of Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn, combines the history of Greenmarket with profiles of its farmers, as well as recipes by the chefs and food writers (Dan Barber, Amanda Hesser, and Daniel Humm among them) who turn to its offerings for inspiration. PW spoke with Langholtz about the benefits of shopping at farmers markets, the challenges of writing a cookbook, and which recipes from the book she’ll be making this summer.
How did you come to be involved with Greenmarket?
I was right out of college, and I was working on the business side of Fortune magazine. This was during the dotcom boom craziness, so they sent me to Paris for a month, where I just never left the hotel. I was eating out of the mini bar because I was working around the clock. On the last day of my project, I walked out of the hotel and into this incredibly beautiful Paris farmers market. I went into ecstasy. I went back to the hotel, and I found the contact information for the Greenmarket and I sent them a fax—this was 2000—and said, “I want to come work for you.” I started there in January of 2001 and worked there for eight years. I wore a bunch of different hats. A big part of my job was running the food stamp program and [also] liaising with white-tablecloth chefs, just to give you a sense of the breadth.
In the book you include a number of profiles of farmers who sell their goods at Greenmarket locations. What’s one of your favorite farmer stories?
I like Sergio [Nolasco’s] story. He’s an immigrant from Mexico who worked through the New Farmer Development project within Greenmarket to get established as a farmer here [in the United States]. Immigrants typically get “slave-labor” jobs in American agriculture and, through this project, immigrants can become farm owners and set up their own operation. And it’s not just good for that individual; it has had incredible reception in the neighborhoods where [the farmers] sell. Sergio grows things for which there are no names in English—pepiche and papalo and all these herbs that I’ve never tasted before. For other immigrants who live in these communities where Sergio now sells—these people haven’t tasted this stuff since they left their mountain village in Puebla. They will show up and wait in line before Sergio even gets there.
You write in the book that “farmers markets are at heart a social experience,” and you mention specific long-lasting relationships—and even romances—that have come out of market encounters. Can you name some memorable examples?
One of the first years that I worked at the Greenmarket office, a woman called. She said, “I used to live in New York. I’m booking my plane ticket to come back this fall, and I want to know, when are the grape people back? ’Cause I can’t find those grapes [anywhere else].” She literally wanted to book her trip around that! [People] have a real relationship [with market vendors] the way they would never have a real relationship at the mall, or with the checkout person at the supermarket.
In addition to offering food that tastes better than what you’d find at a supermarket, farmers markets also provide goods that are either organic or at least more environmentally conscious. Can you explain why that is?
Bear in mind [farmers] drink the well water, they raise the kids. If there are any sprays—and there are organic sprays—they’re the ones breathing them. They have such a disincentive to use chemical applications since they live right there. Small- to mid-size farmers or family farmers simply use different production methods on a different scale than someone who’s monocropping 20,000 acres of corn. There are also the fossil-fuel footprints that [go] into shipping long distances. So much of the food we eat is shipped in from other continents. It’s just incredibly irresponsible with the catastrophic climate change that we are living in. So, when you’re buying something that was trucked in from a neighboring county, instead of a different country, it has a very different fossil-fuel footprint.
Are there any books that inspired you as were writing and compiling The New Greenmarket Cookbook?
There are so many cookbooks that I love. Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Vegetables. Jack Bishop’s book called Vegetables Every Day. I really love River Cottage Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, out of the U.K. There are also nonfiction books that speak to me. I love David Mas Masumoto. He’s a peach farmer in California and he writes these beautiful creative nonfiction books about what it’s like to be a farmer and sell directly. One is called Four Seasons in Five Senses. Wendell Berry, of course, is the poet laureate of this whole good-food movement, and all of his books—especially his nonfiction books—are the touchstones.
What if any challenges or surprises did you run into when working on the book?
I knew how bad chefs are at writing recipes, and yet I was still surprised. People who are the best cooks in the country don’t need to write down things like how many minutes and how many tablespoons. The recipes the chefs turn in to us would simply not be publishable. They worked for people who are professionals, and home cooks, like me, need to be told measurements, minutes, heat, do I turn it down, is it covered, when do I add the salt. So, it was a lot of fun—and a huge amount of work—to go through five different rounds of testing and tweaking each one of these recipes so they are rock-solid and ready for people who haven’t gone to culinary school.
What are some of your favorite summertime recipes from The New Greenmarket Cookbook?
I absolutely am crazy about the Raw Squash Salad with Radishes, Manchego, and Lemon Vinaigrette [and the] Fresh Pole Bean Salad. Those two, to me really represent what this book does. They are all about getting the best ingredients, preparing them very simply in ways that really shine a spotlight on the kind of ingredients that you can only get at the farmers market.
The New Greenmarket Cookbook: Recipes and Tips from Today’s Finest Chefs and the Stories Behind the Farms That Inspire Them. Da Capo Lifelong, May. ISBN 978-0-7382-1689-8