Meet the Couple Running the Only All-Organic Farmers' Market in New York State

While on a morning walk one day, Patti and Doug Wood came up with the idea for a farmers' market in their hometown of Port Washington, situated on the north shore of Long Island. And not just any farmers' market! The market they eventually created is 100 percent organic - the only all-organic farmers' market in New York State. The Port Washington Organic Farmers' Market - which has locally harvested strawberries, peas, blueberries, beans, carrots, winter squash and much more - is open every Saturday from June through October, from 8 am to 12 noon (find this farmers' market in our Eat Well Guide). It is managed by Grassroots Environmental Organization, also founded by Patti and Doug, whose mission relates to environmental and public health.

Tell me about the Port Washington Organic Farmers' Market (and your group Grassroots Environmental Education)?

The mission of Grassroots Environmental Education is to inform the public about the health risks of common environmental exposures and to empower individuals to act as catalysts for change in their own communities. The organization played a lead role in Governor Cuomo's decision not to allow fracking in NY and is currently focused on GMO labeling, synthetic turf fields, Long Island's water problems and wireless radiation. One local project, the Port Washington Farmers' Market, joins three school gardens and a community farm project that grows organic vegetables and fruits for the local food pantry. The Market is the only 100 percent organic market in New York State, and has grown in size and popularity over the past 15 years. Organic farmers, small growers and food artisans seek us out to secure a place in the growing local food movement and to be part of the positive vibe on Saturday morning.

What inspired you to start the Port Washington Organic Farmers' Market?

We try to walk about a mile every morning, and our usual route takes us across our town dock. One day we agreed it would be great for the town to have a farmers' market there.

Of course, it would have to be an organic market where we could "walk the walk." A few phone calls later we had found two organic farmers who were willing to join us.

What does organic mean to you?

Well, there is a legal definition controlled by the USDA, and there's the image of organic as a guy with a long beard and sandals. But to us, organic means healthy...healthy people and a healthy environment; it means sustainable; it means uncontaminated, non-GMO food; it signifies living in harmony with nature instead of trying to control it. It's a lifestyle choice we make, and we think the world would be a better place if more people embraced it.

Nothing is more powerful than the pocketbooks of consumers. If people speak up and demand and support locally grown, organic food at their supermarkets, more farmers will be able to make the switch and start growing what the market demands. Those individuals will also be insuring cleaner water and communities.

What types of vegetables and fruits are sold at the farmers' market?

The cool thing about the market is that we have whatever is being harvested on local farms at the moment. New visitors to the market ask if we have apples in June. Or they come in September and ask for strawberries. After a while they begin to understand that nature determines what we have at the market.

So our farmers have spring onions, greens, peas and strawberries in June, blueberries, beans, chard and squashes show up in July, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes and melons dominate the market in August, beets, carrots and potatoes are plentiful in September, and pumpkins mingle with winter squash in October.  Kale and arugula are available through the whole season...thank goodness!

What is most popular among the farmers' market goers?  

Market patrons have a special place in their hearts for a great cup of organic coffee with a freshly-baked and still-warm organic blueberry or peach-raspberry muffin.

What farms does your produce come from?

Our two anchor farms are the Golden Earthworm Farm in South Jamesport, and Orient Organics, located at the tip of the East End of Long Island.

You have a personal connection to a local farm. Can you tell us about that?  

After the market had been going a few years our daughter returned from her junior year abroad and was home for a few weeks. One Saturday we asked if she could help out Matt Kurek, owner of the Golden Earthworm Farm, at his market stand. Two years later, they were married. Now they run the farm together, and their two sons (our fantastic grandsons!) are growing up on an organic farm.

How does your farmers' market benefit the local community?

There is no fresher, more nutritious food than the food you buy at a farmers' market. Our farmers participate in the Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) to make their produce available to seniors, women and children and individuals in need at reduced prices.

Describe your local food community in three words?

Our market patrons are educated, passionate and happy!

What has surprised you the most managing this farmers' market?

It's a lot more work than we expected, but we're very fortunate to have enthusiastic, dedicated high school volunteers who help us.

What are the ongoing challenges you face running this market?

Getting up at 5 am every Saturday morning and making sure all of our vendors are happy and do well.

What role can individuals play in bringing about a more sustainable food system?

Nothing is more powerful than the pocketbooks of consumers. If people speak up and demand and support locally grown, organic food at their supermarkets, more farmers will be able to make the switch and start growing what the market demands. Those individuals will also be insuring cleaner water and communities.

Who and/or what inspires you?  

We inspire each other. Or maybe it's that we compete with each other. Not sure.

What's the one food you can't do without?  

Impossible to answer.  We actually look forward to each week of the growing season to enjoy the great variety of local foods.  Right now we are thinking about those first strawberries and the luscious asparagus spears.

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