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A Point of View: Farmers markets: local entrepreneurs at work

HAMBURG — When I was young, not a farmer or food buyer was unfamiliar with the Clinton and Bailey Market in Buffalo. People from all over Western New York, including Hamburg, Eden, Boston and Angola, regularly patronized this market, which was packed with local produce and other offerings. It was, and still is, a busy, thriving, major wholesale and retail outlet of grown produce.

This market began to promote and encourage buying local, back in 1931.

I remember one particular autumn morning, in which the brilliant and vibrant colors of a full array of fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and baked goods welcomed patrons to the busy walkways of the Buffalo Clinton and Bailey farmers market. Farmers, business people and city dwellers intermingled, selling and selecting produce.

The maze of assorted vegetables and fresh fruits boasted red tomatoes, green cucumbers and beans, purple eggplant, yellow squash, orange carrots and pumpkins, white cauliflower, brown potatoes, golden onions and a variety of luscious apples, cherries, peaches, grapes and plums.

Customers could smell the freshly cut dill, fennel seeds and other newly picked herbs which pungently permeated the morning atmosphere. These were mixed with the scents of hot dogs and freshly brewed coffee from the white lunch car parked in one of the parkways.

The farmers market is a gem for area farmers, food producers, produce distributors and home consumers. Most WNY households have been affected, in some way, by the local farmers market.

Putting the market load together was a family affair. Vegetables needed to be picked, sorted, counted, washed and packed. String beans needed to be weighed and packed and sweet corn had to be gathered, inspected and boxed.

Cauliflower was tied, cut, trimmed, sorted and crated. New potatoes were dug, hand-picked, sorted, washed, weighed and bagged. Summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes and sweet peppers required special handling, because of the fragile nature of the produce.

When they were in season, the fresh elderberries were carefully picked and prepared for market. Much of this work was done the evening before, while the dairy herd was milked, fed and bedded. The final job of the day, was to load the farm truck with all of the prepared produce.

Some farmers went to the market the night before, to secure a prime spot. The farmer would get an hour or two of sleep in the truck before the opening of the market. Others would rent a stall for the season and get to market an hour ahead of time.

The market lights went on at 5 a.m. and the magic began. The walkways glowed with the pink hue that brightened the eastern sky.

Whether they be residents of the city or the country, this group of people were brought together by a common attraction. The Clinton and Bailey Market was more than just a place; it was truly an event.

Dr. Robert Heichberger, professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Fredonia, is an author, a Boston native and a of Gowanda resident
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