I have been working with Eckerton Hill Farm on their social media for a good while, but just last week I had the opportunity to help them out in a new capacity as a market hand. I LOVED IT! Watch out Ben, this may be a new career move. My eyes are probably more open than most to the workload of a local farmer and all that goes into that delicious, safe produce that you consume, but after working at the market all day, they were opened even more.
Last Wednesday, I arrived at Eckerton Hill Farm (about 20 minutes from my home) at 3:30 in the morning after a dark, lonely, and surprisingly calming drive. Once in the big red barn (aka the packing shed on the day before market), the trucks were loaded nearly to capacity, full of tomatoes (mostly) and peppers from the previous afternoon picks. Stef walked in with her mason jar filled with coffee and Mario wasn’t far behind. We got to work finishing up the loading, shifting things around so that the tomatoes were safe and sound for their trip to the Big City. We grabbed supplies, and by 4:07 we were on the road. Through Kutztown to Rt. 78 and onward, Tim and I chatted for the 2+ hour drive into Manhattan. Stef and Mario rode in the box truck and were just ahead of us.
As we pulled into NYC, we missed all of the traffic as it was only 6:30. Union Square was chock full of the sights and smells of pure freshness and already bustling, even at this early hour. All of the stand owners, some from right in the city, others, like us, from hours away, perfecting their set-up and getting ready for a full day of customers. Eckerton has its special “spot” and with that spot comes a sort of routine. They go to the market every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Tim parked just across the street, and soon after Mario pulled the truck up on the curve with an extra 2.7 inches to spare, squeezed in perfectly sideways (so perfect that the side of the truck acted as Eckerton’s sign for the market).
Stef quickly started unloading boxes, and within seconds the first “restaurant buyer” was at the back of the truck for his order: 15 flats of large heirlooms, flats of cherry tomatoes, and more. It didn’t stop there. For the ENTIRE morning, buyers from restaurants were hitting Tim up for his widely known (and rightfully so) perfectly imperfect heirloom tomatoes. Flats of large heirlooms, cherry heirlooms, medium sized heirlooms, and peppers.
Betty came around bright and early to take an order for breakfast. I defaulted to what Stef was having, a chicken quesadilla. In all honesty, I wasn’t thrilled when we ordered, I thought, “How boring, we are at UNION SQUARE MARKET! Let’s get something amazing!” But after seeing it, and even better, biting in, I realized from the explosion of flavors (including cheesy hotness) in my mouth, that I need to be more trusting of others, especially Stef. Go Betty! If you are ever at the market, seek her out! P.S. It was even good cold, as I didn’t finish eating it until circa 12:30 p.m. We were hoppin’!
Eckerton doesn’t slow down. Ever. There are constantly market-goers grabbing heirlooms by the pound or the quart. Did you know that the large yellow heirlooms tend to be the sweetest? I didn’t either until I listened closely to how Stef would answer questions from our visitors. Let me tell you, a full day at the market will get you the answers to A LOT of questions. Hot peppers, yeah, I know my hot peppers. Quiz me. But I DOUBLED my knowledge of these incendiary delights by chatting with market goers about their plans for Tim’s produce. Once again, my constant theme of food is all about stories…everyone has one.
The favorite of the Union Square market seems to be the pepper. Eckerton has a huge mix of peppers and they are amazing (I just tried my first hot pepper mix this week). Those Ahi Dulces that everyone is tweeting about…yeah, they really are that good. We were sold out by 8:15 a.m.
How could you resist walking up and looking at all of these colors? Most couldn’t.
The day flew by, and honestly, every part was the best part for me. The ride to NYC, chatting with all of Eckerton’s “NYC regulars”, learning TONS, making deliveries to Esca and Becco with Tim, and browsing the market.
Oh the market…I knew it was going to be good when I looked to the right of us and saw a Maple Syrup stand. Tim’s daughter scored some maple cotton candy for all of us to try, and let me just say, as someone that is not usually a maple syrup fan, it was AMAZING! On the other side…yeah, it was a bread shop, Our Daily Bread. Can’t get better than that.
At about one-ish, Tim grabbed me and we went driving through the streets of NY (better him than me), making deliveries to a few restaurants…Esca and Becco. We unloaded some peaches and tomatoes in the kitchens and headed straight back to the market.
Finally, a quick tour around the market was in order. Stef staved off the pacing Tim (who wanted to beat the traffic on the way home) for me so that I could run around and grab some goods that I had been scoping out for months in anticipation of this day. It was a long day, but definitely one of the most exciting days I have had in quite a while. The anticipation the night before was like Christmas Eve for me as I dreamt of all the wonderful natural goodies I was hoping to see.
I had been thinking all day long, in between my interesting conversations, how I would attack this huge conglomeration of interesting booths and tables. I had a game plan. Go left first. I headed to Our Daily Bread and grabbed a loaf of their honey wheat bread which I sliced thin later for grilled cheese and heirloom tomato sandwiches. Next up was Locust Grove Orchards where I tried some Elephant Hearts (read plums with red flesh) and grabbed some nectarines. Hot Bread Kitchen had been on my list since Nancy made us fresh corn tortillas at BSP4. I HAD to get more, and more I got…two packages, one of which was eaten almost immediately, and one of which is in my freezer for later. I bought more of that Maple Cotton Candy from Roxbury Mountain Maple for my cotton candy lovers at home, C and G. They are lucky it even made it home, it was so good! And of course, I just had to get a beautiful sunflower as well. Just gorgeous.
Tim, his daughter, and I jumped in the car when I got back from my quick tour and we headed off through the Lincoln Tunnel, back to Pennsylvania. A long car ride filled with great conversation. I pulled every ounce of potential social media content that I could out of him (go me!) and learned all about saving seeds (some Ahi Dulces are on my windowsill drying out as I write ).
A most amazing day at the market. I am honored and feel extremely lucky to be a part of a farm that is so dedicated to providing quality produce for both local CSA members and NYC market goers. As if Eckerton’s heirlooms and pepper mixes weren’t enough to convince you to buy locally, Tim and everyone that works on that farm and the pride that goes into that work is reason enough. Support your local farmers. Go to your local farms, get to know their stories. They will change your lives.