Schenectady’s needy and homeless are benefiting from the new indoor farmers market even if they can’t afford to buy any of the food.
Every week, farmers donate their leftover vegetables rather than hauling them home. Although only a few farmers at the Sunday Proctors market sell vegetables, they’ve given the food pantries and City Mission bushels of produce.
The practice began on the first Sunday of the market, which opened Nov. 2. The market runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday and has drawn large crowds, but there are still remnants left over once the last buyers head home.
Five crates of food were sent to the Schenectady Inner City Ministry the first Sunday. Since then, a new charity is chosen every week. No one must donate, and those who sell goods that don’t spoil quickly — like apples or honey — do not typically join in.
But those with cauliflower, broccoli and other perishables turn over the last of their food every week.
“Part of it is simply we’d rather it go to somebody rather than compost it,” said Andrew Migliorelli.
The food isn’t ruined if it isn’t sold within hours of being harvested, but he won’t sell it anyway.
“The greens get dehydrated and wilt. There’s nothing wrong with them — you’re probably going to cool them with oil and water anyway. But we like to sell a grade-A product,” Migliorelli said. “We try to do it as often as we can. At least this way it’s going to a good cause.”
Such donations are common at well-organized markets in New York City, but not here, farmers said. At the City Hall market, there has never been a formal donation system, even though one farmer donated vegetables every week last year. His children took over his booth this year and no one continued the tradition, market organizer Maureen Gebert said.
The Rev. Philip Grigsby, executive director of the Schenectady Inner City Ministry, which runs the food pantry, said he doesn’t recall ever getting regular donations from a market before.
“This is something new.”
SICM began offering fresh produce at its emergency pantry years ago, primarily through the Regional Food Bank, which has agreements with many local farms. This time of year, the pantry has heaps of onions and turnips, which are not known for their popularity, but hungry visitors pick them up anyway.
“People need vegetables,” Grigsby said. “Vegetables are good for you. We try to have produce year-round but we really are dependent on the season and the donations.”
Many of the farmers who donate at the indoor market also send produce to the Regional Food Bank. But they said they liked the idea of directly helping Schenectadians.
“A lot of us are out of the city,” said Cindy Barber, who runs a farm in Middleburgh. “It allows these farms to participate in the community. It’s going right to use in the Schenectady area.”
She agreed with Migliorelli that even gently handled produce isn’t good enough to sell after the market.
“It might be a nicked head of broccoli. Something might be bruised,” she said. “This is perfectly good food but it’s not going to have that beauty. It might be happier going directly to a consumer, especially a cook who can turn that into a delicious meal.”