A December low brilliant sun casts long shadows on the pavements. It warms what could have been a chilly Saturday afternoon. The Union Square Greenmarket is bustling on the first weekend of this holiday month.
Local farmers are selling in-season root crops, greens, and squash of all sorts as well as a slew of varieties of apples, and cider and donuts, and pears, too. Baked goods and other locally produced foodstuffs are also sought and shopped.
On this particular Saturday, Christine Wong is at a booth with her book, which she co-authored with Brigette Allen, Breaking Up with Plastic.
The atmosphere is festive. Pine boughs and wreaths, flowers and plant embellishments convey the holiday season.
At the northeastern end of Union Square, the Stokes Farms’ booth is set up. Next to a crate of lavender, Ron Binaghi is assembling onto a wire base a wreath of lavender and rosemary—by early afternoon they’ve already sold the ones they had of that combination of herbs.
All totally aromatic, Stokes Farms offers three herb combos of their wreaths with other choices of savory and rosemary or sage and rosemary. Admiring the herb wreath selections, one shopper piped up, “I’ve been cooking off my wreath for a year.”
The herbs for the holiday wreaths along with seasonal squashes and root crops are grown on the Stokes 17-acre New Jersey farm, in the northeast corner of the state, south of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Grouping the sprigs of rosemary together, Binaghi speaks, “I’ve been making these herb wreaths for about 25 years.”
Some years back, highlighted on a morning talk show, the wreaths got national coverage. Overnight, Binaghi began to get orders from all over the country and in one season he went from selling 100 to 1500. Now, the Stokes Farms’ website offers the opportunity to order wreaths.
About Stokes Farms
This seven generation single-family farm started in 1873. “Ulysses S. Grant was President,” Binaghi informs, in case your command of history is a little rusty. “I’m fifth generation, there are two more generations after me working on the farm.”
Stokes Farms is one of the two original 13 farmers that started Saturday’s Union Square Greenmarket in 1976, the second of the City’s Greenmarkets. (Locust Grove Fruit Farm from Milton, NY is the other farm).
Binaghi shares a little family/farm history, “That year my dad started (uptown) and I was with him. I was 16.” Union Square opened some months later.
“My dad said, ‘Why don’t you run that Union Square thing. Keep all the money whatever you want.’”
“I’m sixteen in 1976, I’m making $500 a week net, in the 70s. My dad knew that was a great motivation. I didn’t go to college, by choice. I’ve been here every scheduled Saturday since then.”
On the day of Binaghi’s high school graduation, Ron was at the market. “It was June, I sold strawberries in the morning, went home and graduated high school,” he remembers.
“I was here the day I got married—set up the truck, my friend drove the pickup. I drove the big truck in about 9, he threw me the keys to the pickup, I threw him the key to the big truck, I was home by 10:30-11, took a nap, got up, got married 3 o’clock. I was back for Wednesday market.”
Now, Stokes Farms sells at two Greenmarkets, Union Square and Tucker’s Square—65th and Broadway, in front of Alice Tully Hall.
What has Greenmarket meant to his farm and family? Without hesitation, Binaghi replies, “The farmer’s market has kept our farm alive for 45 years.”
Will he be back in the upcoming Saturdays? “If the weather is over 35 degrees,” he says, “I’ll be back.”
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.