NEW YORK TIMES: A Farmers' Market at a Historic Homestead - July 16, 2011

By ALICE GABRIEL

Published: July 15, 2011

On a recent sultry morning, locals swarmed to the inaugural market. Since May, the market manager, Jennifer Gordon, had been handpicking a group of nearby farmers and producers; many come from just 10 or 15 minutes away and all use organic or sustainable practices. “I already had some favorite vendors,” said Ms. Gordon, who has a history of her own as a greenmarket loyalist. “We wanted our market to be — I don’t want to use the word ‘classy’ — but a step above, with a certain amount of sophistication. We didn’t want to take every Tom, Dick and Harry.”

A state historic site, the John Jay Homestead is tailor-made for a busy farm market. The colony of white vendor tents sits just above a ha-ha, a stone wall embedded in the ground to bar grazing livestock from the main house while serving as a clever bit of trompe l’oeil, allowing the broad lawn and meadow to appear to stretch uninterrupted from the house to the road. Parking is easy (one young patron tied up her pony just below the ha-ha), and marketgoers enjoy the same majestic views taken in by five generations of Jays.

“We provide a really great destination, very different in its feel from the traditional commuter railroad parking lot type of farm market that seems to be prevalent in Westchester,” said Heather Iannucci, the site director, who is working on ways to bring what she calls “true farming” back to the property. “The homestead just brings so much to the table.”

For 150 years, John Jay and his ancestors — agricultural and horticultural enthusiasts — grew grains, fruits, herbs and vegetables, and raised chickens, cows and pigs on the estate. The founding father focused on his dairy, producing large quantities of butter and cheese. Subsequent Jays shipped milk, produce, meat, poultry and eggs to the New York City market. Glass hothouses built at the end of the 19th century allowed John Jay’s great-grandson, William Jay II, to supply city hotels with cut flowers like carnations year-round.

At the present-day market, a customer whose armful of blue delphiniums was attracting oohs and ahs directed buyers to her source: Amba Farms, which also had crisp, deep-orange Nelson carrots (50 cents each) and baby Bull’s-Blood beet leaf-chard ($3 per bunch). Liz Taggart, the owner of the farms, in Bedford Hills and Somers, is a champion of soil science and extra-nutritious cultivars. “We let Mother Nature do as much of the work as she can,” Ms. Taggart said.

A cold, wet spring presented challenges for many growers, but the recent warm spell has given crops a boost. At the Mobius Fields tent, buyers were marveling at a tangle of garlic scapes, or shoots (10 for $2), and gorgeous red Russian kale ($3 per bunch). The farmer, Deb Taft, proudly eyed her display and said, “All this was in the ground at 7:30 this morning, five miles away.”

Even on the first day, vendors had acquired affectionate tags: Lavender Lady, Jam Lady, Cheese Man. The Lavender Lady is Ellen Duffy-Taylor, who cultivates lavender on her 24-acre farm in Pawling. She sells live plants, handmade sachets and pillows and delicate fluted lavender shortbread ($3 per bag).

Cabbage Hill Farm, a local pioneer of aquaponics, had mild red Cherokee summer crisp lettuce ($4 per bunch) grown in water fertilized by nutrients from fish that swim in an adjacent pond. A whole smoked rainbow trout ($7) was one of the fish that didn’t get away.

The Red Barn Bakery offered a trove of baked goods, including old-fashioned iced molasses cookies ($6 for six), the sort of confection that might have once filled a cookie jar in the Jay family kitchen.

Cooking With Fire dazzled onlookers with its mobile wood-burning oven; a delicious pizza topped with fresh peaches, ricotta, ginger and mint ($8) provided sustenance for further shopping. Just next door, the Hudson Valley Milk Company had unbelievably good full-fat chocolate milk from Battenkill Valley Creamery chilling on ice ($2 per pint) — a perfect pizza chaser.

Summer essentials came in the form of organic bug spray from Burren Farm ($8 for 8 ounces) and one heck of a good vanilla ice cream cone from the Blue Pig, which buys its basic mix from the Hudson Valley Fresh dairy cooperative and flavors its ice cream with local Hudson Valley fruit and honey.

The entertainment, too, was locally sourced. The Knox Sisters, from Carmel, ages 10 and 12, played sweetly on guitar and ukulele, and seemed somewhat embarrassed by all the applause. Other acts will perform at the market throughout the growing season.

For picnickers, a dozen tables beckon under huge red oaks. Grab a baguette from Wave Hill Bread ($3.50), a small round of luscious Nettle Meadow Kunik cheese from the Pampered Cow (about $30 per pound) and sweet cherries ($8 per pound) or apricots (about $4 per pound) from Red Jacket Orchards, and you’ll be good to go.

The main house is closed on Saturdays, but the 62-acre grounds are open for exploration. Check out the herb and vegetable gardens (open for viewing but not for picking); the one-room schoolhouse; the grave of William Jay II’s trusty horse, which survived the battles of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville; and the animated flock of heritage-breed chickens, part of a new egg cooperative that no doubt would have met with John Jay’s approval.

Sampler of Wares

The John Jay Homestead Farm Market will run through Oct. 15 on Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at 400 Jay Street, Katonah. Dogs on leashes are permitted. Not all vendors attend all markets; sign up for weekly e-mail updates at johnjayhomestead.org.

AMBA FARMS Bedford Hills. Vegetables, cut flowers. ambafarm.com.

BURREN FARM Katonah. Culinary and medicinal herbs. burrenfarm.com.

CABBAGE HILL FARM Mount Kisco. Aquaponic lettuce, pork, smoked trout.

CONANT VALLEY JAM COMPANY Pound Ridge. Jams made from local fruits.conantvalleyjams.com.

GAIA’S BREATH FARM Jordanville. Certified organic meats, heirloom vegetables. gaiasbreathfarm.com.

MOBIUS FIELDS Waccabuc. Fresh and dried beans, honey, shiitake mushrooms. mobiusfields.com.

NORTH WINDS FARM Pawling. Lavender plants, sachets and pillows, baked goods. northwindsfarmlavender.com.

HUDSON MILK COMPANY Shrub Oak. Plain and chocolate glass-bottled milk from pastured cows. hudsonmilk.com.

I AND ME FARM Bedford Hills. Micro-greens, heirloom tomatoes, flowers.

JD FARM Brewster. Sweet corn, melons, tomatoes.

RED JACKET ORCHARDS Geneva. Fruits and berries, juices. redjacketorchards.com.

RED BARN BAKERY Irvington. Cookies, fruit galettes, savory tarts. redbarn-bakery.com.

PAMPERED COW Ghent. Farmstead cheeses. pamperedcow.com.

WAVE HILL BREAD Norwalk, Conn. Levain loaves. wavehillbreads.com.

FRONT YARD COOP Katonah. Chicken and duck eggs, mobile chicken coops. frontyardcoop.com.