The co-manager of The Community Farmers’ Market at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton and active member of Slow Food East End talks about working with local schools to create edible gardens, early summer vegetables and the importance of eating local food.
The Farmers Market at the Hayground School is the East End’s first farmers’ market that features collaboration between the community and a school, highlighting produce grown by the children at the Hayground School amongst its two dozen stalls of produce, baked goods, cheeses and fresh seafood. How was this relationship fostered?
We are Slow Food East End leaders, and Slow Food donated money towards the greenhouse at The Hayground School. One of our projects at Slow Food is to raise money to build greenhouses at schools. We elected them for the donation, and helped them construct it after they purchased the greenhouse. Once their plants were established and we just fostered the idea of the farmers’ market based on highlighting the children of The Hayground School and their efforts. They are the keystone of the market as you walk in. They sell produce, but also plants an herbs you can grow at home.
What is in the stalls right now from the Hayground School garden?
Right now, they have chives, nasturtium, a variety of herbs, spinach, lettuces, mesclun salad mix, which they put in biodegradable containers with the school logo on it. They also have a variety of tomatoes from cherries to the beefsteaks, although they are just plants right now, no tomatoes yet. Their strawberries should be up this week. You have seen a lot of early strawberries around, but theirs is just about ready. They also have chickens, which should produce eggs soon. As the season goes on they will have more and more stuff to offer.
Schools throughout the East End have followed Hayground’s suit, creating edible gardens as an educational tool, but also to promote wellness and nutrition. Why do you think this movement has grown in popularity in recent years?
I think people have become much more aware in recent years. Here you have the President’s wife, Michelle Obama, talking about how important this is. You can’t really do much better than that. People are recognizing how important it is to eat healthily. The word is out. You can’t deny its importance in the face of diabetes, childhood obesity. The school lunches have been deplorable, and instead, at Hayground, the kids are really seeing where their food is coming from. Often, kids don’t recognize that a French fry actually comes from a potato. You have to get them in touch with where their food comes from.
A leader of the Slow Food East End movement, and organizing the Hayground Farmers Market – obviously you have an interest in food and organics. Which one initially drew you to slow food?
It’s not so much the organics, although that is important. What we are really about is the local regionalism of our food shed. Here, we have such an abundance – you can find some of the top produce in the world. We are trying to keep heritage products and local growers and fishermen alive, and not succumb to the grocery store.
The Slow Food movement was founded in Italy, where regional foods are very important and they are even protected as P.O.D. — protected designation of origin — where they designate artisanal products as specially protected, such as a cheese or meat specific to the area. Carlo Petrini founded Slow Food in Italy with [chef] Alice Waters supporting Slow Food in the United States promoting the edible schoolyards and eating seasonally, locally. A natural extension of this was to get into the schools and teach the children, make them aware of the abundance of local food we have out here because it is really amazing.
It seems the Slow Food movement has become more popular in recent years. Why?
People recognized the way we have been living is not sustainable. People are aware if we shop and patronize our farm stands, we will keep them in business, otherwise they could become the next McMansion, although I hate to use such words. A prime example of this is the Pike Farm Stand [in Sagaponack]. Without that, that area would look like a suburban subdivision. Towns are even looking at this now. The Westhampton Beach Farmers’ Market was taken over the by chamber of commerce, and they must have 30 vendors. Southampton Village has jumped on board with their farmers’ market. Also, you are enabling the young couple with the small farm, like John and Karen who have a one or two acre farm Sunset Beach Farm in Sag Harbor, to have an outlet to sell their product and hopefully continue their business. We are proud that out market at The Hayground School is almost exclusively a farmers’ market of locals. Pretty much everyone lives within a 10 to 12 mile radius of the school.
What is in your fridge, right now?
Well, [Denslow and his wife, Emily Herrick, also a member of Slow Food East End and co-manager of the farmers’ market at Hayground] do make our own humus. We have mesclun salad mix. We must have four pounds of asparagus. Strawberries are in there right now. We try to make a lot of our own food. We make our own granola, sorbets, ice creams and roast our own coffee. We make almost everything we eat from scratch and as much as possible from local ingredients. We love it, and everything is so readily available here, sometimes it’s just a walk down the street. We are very enthusiastic about what the East End has to offer – our local fish is sensational, and we actually have two fishermen at the market. You can’t find more pristine scallops. And then we have Art Ludlow’s cheese [from Mecox Dairy]. It’s just very special.
What is in the future for Slow Food East End?
Slow Food will continue to raise money for greenhouses. We made a donation to The Seedlings Project at the Springs School and gave money to the Bridgehampton School so they have a greenhouse project going. We have expanded the leadership to include more people from the North Fork, so hopefully our next greenhouse project will be in Mattituck. The parents want it, the kids want it – they see what a benefit it is to the school and the community.
The Community Farmers’ Market at the Hayground School is open Fridays, May 28 through September 10 from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Hayground School, 151 Mitchell Lane in Bridgehampton. For more information, call Michael Denslow at 987-3553 or visit haygroundfarmersmarket.com.