Contributing Editor Andrew Nelson gathers the gossip from his recent trip to Saratoga Springs, New York.
Longtime patrons will warn you, traversing the Saratoga Springs Farmers’ Market is not for the fainthearted. At 8:30 a.m., a half hour before opening, parking is already scarce along High Rock Ave. where the market is held every Wednesday and Saturday. Beneath the pavilions, local farmers set out bunches of emerald-green broccoli, scarlet radishes and strawberries the color of rubies. By 9 a.m., shortly before a bell signals that the selling can begin, the produce-hungry are already lined up in front of their favorite stalls, elbows out and holding prize heads of lettuce still dewy from that morning’s harvest while gossiping about life in this historic upstate spa town.
This summer the talk is of Saratoga’s ongoing revitalization – the town of graceful Greek Revival houses and brick Victorian shopping arcades is filling with new downtown condos, restaurants and travelers lured here by its charm, its famed racetrack, a summer of music, and its proximity to New York, Boston and the Adirondacks.
The change isn’t always welcome: come summer there can be epic traffic on the main thoroughfare Broadway (Saratogans circumnavigate the gridlock via Circular Avenue, a pretty street of old houses that skirts downtown). Meanwhile historic preservationists
are organizing protests against an extremely rich pair of newcomers whose recently-completed stone palace features grounds populated with life-sized bronze wood nymphs and Thoroughbreds.
The mega-mansion may fit in as well as Caesar’s Palace would at Colonial Williamsburg, but the controversy is about a 150-year-old neighbor, a historic brick house that the mega-mansion owners purchased for $1.1 million, which they want leveled to enlarge their lawn. The Old Guard speak darkly of arrivistes and philistines. Now the city council’s being dragged into the affair which promises to be Saratoga’s hot topic this summer – at least until the horse crowd shows up on July 29th to inaugurate the racing season with a merry-go-round of society benefits and parties.
Nouveau riche or old, everyone is protective towards the farmers market. The 31-year-old institution has become popular, not just for its cornucopia of Upper Hudson Valley produce, but also for its other merchants.
Flower stalls abound, and there are fresh, chewy bagels and hot Ethiopian coffee from Uncommon Grounds (+1 518 581 0656), the town’s favorite coffeehouse. Cheese lovers make a beeline to Jeff Bowers’ Sweet Spring Farm
and his array of four-ounce packages of goat cheese. For 100 varieties of jam from Anna Mae of Ballston Spa (+1 518 885 7356) and soap makers like Mary-Jane Rau Pelzer, whose Saratoga Suds scented soaps are made from recipes her 19th century ancestors used, though as she admits, not with fragrances such as lemon and lavender.
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By 10 a.m. the crowd is jostling one another to scoop up fresh rhubarb, crisp asparagus spears and organic greens. A guitar player is entertaining children and the parking has indeed become hopeless.
Nobody cares. “Troy’s farmers market may be bigger, but for some reason,” says Bowers the cheese monger, “There’s something about the Saratoga Springs market that’s much more fun.”
Andrew Nelson is a contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewnelson.
Photos: Radishes at the Farmers’ Market; Andrew’s mother sniffing the flowers. By Andrew Nelson.