Growing up with a farm market

The free enterprise system at work and an economic engine of activity … that was and still is the powerhouse of the popular Clinton and Bailey Farmers Market and the Niagara Frontier Food Terminal.

In the days of my youth, there probably was not a farmer or food buyer who was not familiar with the grandeur of the Clinton and Bailey Market in Buffalo. Farmers and food buyers from the counties of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie … in fact all of Western New York and well beyond … were highly familiar with the awesomeness of this market of local produce. It was then and still is today a busy, thriving, major wholesale and retail outlet of grown produce. It had its beginning in 1931.

I am reminiscing back to the days of my youth. It was a glowing, beaming sunrise on this bright autumn morning. The brilliant and vibrant colors of a full array of fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and baked goods were a spectacular scene on the busy walks of the Buffalo Clinton and Bailey Farmers Market.

Rural farmers, urban business people and city dwellers all made up the population of folks, selling and selecting their choice of produce. In fact, what an artist’s dream it would be to put this colorful scene on canvas.

This was the breathtaking picture, as I remembered it as a boy, back in the 1930s and 1940s. There was a maze of assorted vegetables and fresh fruits with all the colors imaginable … red tomatoes, green cucumbers and beans, purple eggplant, yellow squash, orange carrots and pumpkins, white cauliflower, tan and red potatoes, golden onions and a variety of luscious apples, cherries, peaches, grapes and plums. The aroma of freshly cut dill, fennel seeds and newly picked cucumbers permeated the morning atmosphere with a pungency of “flavor” never to be forgotten. And, occasionally with the wave of air current, one could pick up the tantalizing fragrance of cooked hot dogs and freshly brewed coffee from the white lunch car parked in one of the parkways of the market. What a treat that was, to share a foot-long hot dog with my dad or my older brother.

The farmer’s market was the gem of a jewel for area farmers, food producers, produce distributors and home consumers. Probably, there was not a household in Western New York that was not affected, one way or another, with the flow of produce that transpired on the walks of the farmers market.

But what a heap of work took place on the farm before going to market each day. To grasp a glimpse of what happened … from a farmer’s perspective, that is … we turn back the clock about 20 hours before the morning opening of the market.

Putting the market load together (as we called it then) was a family affair. Cucumbers and pickles, of all sizes, needed to be picked, sorted, counted, washed and packed.

There were string beans, both yellow and green, to pick, wash, weigh and pack, some in smaller baskets and others in bushel baskets. Sweet corn needed to be picked, sorted, counted 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. And, on occasion when in season, fresh elderberries were carefully picked and prepared for market.

Often, much of this work was done and readied before the evening milking, feeding and bedding of the dairy herd. The final job of the day, was to load the farm truck with all the prepared produce to be taken to market that evening or very early the next morning.

Some farmers went to the market late in the evening before the next morning market in order to secure a marketing stall. This meant that the farmer would attempt to get an hour or two of sleep in the truck before the opening of the new market day. Other farmers would rent a stall for the season and thus would not get to market until an hour or so before the opening. Once the farmer arrived, movement toward action would soon get underway and under glow of dim lights, the farmers would begin to unload and arrange the produce on the walkway.

At 5 a.m., the market lights went on and, almost like magic, the market walk-ways were aglow with all the brilliance of every imaginable color and array of fragrance of the freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. And, with a look toward the horizon, a pink hue was brightening the eastern sky as to announce that a new day had arrived for busy and productive folks. Some of the people were city dwellers, others were country farmers. But they were all as one, a neighborly family of hardworking folks appreciating much of what nature had to offer. No wonder the Clinton and Bailey Market was more than just a place; it was, truly, an event.

Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Fredonia and distinguished professor at Capella University in Minneapolis. All of the past columns can be viewed on www.fromourperspective.net/ Send comments to: Rheich@aol.com