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ON THE SCENE: The farmers market must go on

Snowy Grocery in Upper Jay connects farmers with consumers while social distancing

Laurie Daniels of Keene Valley shops at the Mace Chasm Farm stand Sunday, May 3 during the Snowy Grocery farmers market at the Sugar House Creamery in Upper Jay with Courtney Sutton behind the table. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

A mini farmers market is held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays at the Sugar House Creamery in Upper Jay. While the array of farmers participating is modest, the variety of foodstuffs available is not.

The creamery has available a variety of cheeses, including favorites such as Dutch Knuckle, made from raw milk and aged from 8 to 12 months. Another is Little Dickens, a lovely soft cheese, and new this year, Raclette, a semi-hard cheese made from alpine cow’s milk that’s often melted and served with bread, small potatoes and onions.

The creamery also sells raw milk, eggs, yogurt and other dairy products along with some terrific loaves of bread made by Yannig Tanguy’s Crown Point Bread and Bakery. This past Sunday, May 3, I purchased a hearty whole wheat bread, unsliced — just the way I like it — along with raw Adirondack wildflower honey made by the Boquet Valley Farm. The creamery’s shop is chock-a-block with a variety of goodies, all locally produced.

On Sundays, the market features several other purveyors such as Asa Thomas-Train and Courtney Grimes-Sutton’s Mace Chasm Farm & Butcher Shop. They feature an array of local, pasture-raised, grass-fed, non-GMO livestock that includes Devon cattle, Katahdin sheep, and heritage pigs, turkeys and chickens. Man oh man, what a difference livestock raised this way makes in the taste of the cuts of meat, sausage, bacon, eggs and other products they sell.

Another stand getting a good bit of business is Monica Dubay’s Once Upon a Time Bakery. Her table was filled with all manner of danishes, cookies and treats.

Mona Dubay, Once Upon a Time Bakery, poses Sunday, May 3 at the Snowy Grocery farmers market at the Sugar House Creamery in Upper Jay. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“I normally have an early childhood program going on at this time, but that side of my business is on hold as all of my families are staying at home,” said Dubay. “Fortunately, we have been getting a good turnout at the market. I am very thankful that the creamery is open.”

Lissa Goldstein and Steve Wyatt have been planting and growing all manner of vegetables this spring at Wild Work Farms based at the Rivermede Farm in Keene Valley. On Sunday, their abundance included a salad mix, spinach, Tokyo turnips, radishes, bibb lettuce, baby bok choy and pea shoots, and I suspect that’s not all. So much that my partner Renee had to purchase another one of their signature reusable bags to get all she purchased safely home.

With such goodies and more available each Sunday, there’s always quite a line-up when they first open at 10. A sign lays out the rules of entry: keep 6 feet between yourself and others; do not crowd the stands; and if you feel ill, or someone in your household is ill, or if you’ve been directed to self-quarantine, please stay home. If the line seems a tad long, don’t be daunted. With social distancing, the number of people in front is not as many as it appears. Plus the line soon divides, allowing people to go directly to one of multiple stands. You’ll find yourself within talking distance of many engaging people, all wearing masks, of course.

“These farmers are my friends,” said Beatrice Bardin of Keene. “Lissa at Wild Work is fabulous. She has a great variety of things. I always ask for more of this and that. She is so knowledgeable. I had some problems with my flowers, some white mold killing them all. She said get so and so from the hardware; I know they have it. I did, and it worked. So, I am delighted to come and see Lissa, Margo and all my friends who are here to shop.”

“My teenage boys are not huge milk drinkers, but they love Sugar House Creamery’s raw milk,” said Tiverton McClintock. “One of my boys has grown a half inch in the six weeks we’ve been here. It’s probably not the milk, but it’s a big seller.”

Don’t assume that all is sweetness and light, as these are tough times for our farmers. They need our help. They need us to buy local and encourage our visitors and not-yet-returned seasonal residents to purchase their foodstuffs online.

“Our farmers market has seen a big uptick in business at this time of year, certainly our milk sales, but we’ve lost all our restaurant business at the moment,” said Margo Brooks, who co-owns the creamery with her husband Alex Eaton. “We were doing significant sales to local restaurants which have completely dried up. Our two Airbnb spaces are not being rented. So, in some areas, our business has picked up, and in other areas it’s fallen off.”

Brooks said they applied for and got a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which is enabling them to get by for the moment.

“We’re very grateful for that,” said Brooks. “We are lucky and privileged to be connected to the land as a food source, so we are not worried about eating. But our business is hurting like everyone else’s. We are grateful that our farmers market is doing well, and the customer feedback has been very positive. People feel safe, like the quality of the food and like being able to be outside.”

“We’re here because of the good food,” said Billy Curtis of Keene Valley. “It’s all of the highest quality. They have a great farm here. Betsy’s over getting some cheese. Next is the greens, which seem very popular. Then we’re going to tackle the meats.”

“I come because they have good food, and it supports the local community,” said Ian Stewart of Saranac Lake. “These local farmers are essential, and they are good people.”

Casey Galligan, creamery manager, said that foremost, the decision to farm was a decision to move away from the rat race of traditional capitalism.

“Our day-to-day lives have become more of a deeper rhythm and a clarifying moment of why we decided to farm,” said Galligan. “We’re growing our food, and we can feed our community. That idea of being essential workers is part of our DNA.”

“The virus has changed the way our employees and we work at the farm,” said Goldstein. “We all wear gloves and masks when we work with produce and closely with each other. I am not sure what to expect at the Keene farmers market. I hope we can continue and build on the creamery’s approach. We want people to continue to feel that it’s a safe and comfortable place to purchase local food.”

Bottom line is that our local farmers are caught in a vice. Their work is very labor intensive, especially this time of year. Thus, loss of the restaurant business hurts, yet their commitment to producing exceptional wholesome food remains.

“I encourage people to think about where they are spending their money at this time, and the impact they can have when they buy local,” said Brooks.