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A New Market For New York's Regional Food

For the past four years, the New Amsterdam Market, a gathering of local food vendors, has resided in a parking lot next to the...

For the past four years, the New Amsterdam Market, a gathering of local food vendors, has resided in a parking lot next to the South Street Seaport. In what was once the Fulton Fish Market, the market has been a great success at a location with a long history of commerce and exchange of food. The last few years have borne witness to a public market renaissance and awareness over a necessity to cook more and cut back on eating out. In that time New Amsterdam Market has been biding its time, going from a once-a-year affair to an extended season market. The market will next be open this Sunday, December 20.Elizabeth Thacker Jones spoke to the market's director Robert LaValva about how he created what will hopefully become a New York City-mainstay for seasonal shopping, feasting, and inspirational food moments.GOOD: What is the New Amsterdam Market trying to accomplish, besides bringing a wonderful alternative to box supermarkets and bodegas?Robert LaValva: The New Amsterdam Market has evolved over the past four years-our first market was in October, 2005-into a reinvented public-civic space that was last seen in New York in the 19th century. Marketplaces in New York functioned around a broader local community that cultivated relationships between regional vendors and purveyors, not just the farmers themselves.G: What do you mean by "regional" and how does this relate to our understanding of "local"? How far does the New Amsterdam Market region extend?RV: Grocers, cheesemongers, and butchers as well as farmers are included as market vendors. They are sourcing from local farms and make up a collection of new small businesses that are contributing to the natural evolution of the growing awareness around food. I try to use "regional" whenever possible as we have drawn a broad circle around the city. With a huge metro area all around New York, a 100-mile radius could prevent our desire to support the regrowth, reinvention and reimagination of a regional food system.We are working with Port Clyde Fresh Catch who is harvesting lobster, shrimp, and crab by the fisherman's co-op of Port Clyde, Maine. They are also working on creating a CSA. I feel as though cheese makers in Vermont and even in Quebec need markets of bigger cities like New York. The relationship between the rural and urban environments should be rekindled. We use a 500-mile radius as a guideline; not so much to proscribe a region, but to allow for more flexibility in defining its borders, which are equally formed by history, geography, climate, and local economies. Another inspiration (and the source of our name) is a former region known as New Netherland, of which New Amsterdam was the capital. It included much of the Northeast, from Virginia to Quebec; and if you think about it, similar landscapes can be found throughout this area, while what we call "New England" can be a very different place. In short, what I'm trying to say is that this project is not strictly about "food miles"; it is about creating a new food system, and the culture that sustains it.G: What else can we look for at the Winter Market?RV: We will have special Home Baking pavilion featuring locally grown and imported products, including New York State flour, California olive oil, nuts, chocolate, coffee and spices-with a goal to bring out people who enjoy cooking at home, we are supporting this community. The market is also a rich eating experience. The most inventive vendors find ways to evoke regional, seasonal flavors-in the spirit of great regional cooks like Alice Waters and Odessa Piper; we continue challenging their creativity as the market evolves.G: What's in store for 2010?RV: Our goal is to begin with a monthly market in the spring, with hopes that it will become less of a monthly "event" and occur with more frequency.G: How will you continue to communicate the New Amsterdam Market's message?RV: In October, we had a pig-butchering demonstration, which also included a discussion about how this pig was raised, versus the commodity-raised pork in addition to how a restaurant would butcher the pig, different from a retail space. Our education seeks to connect New Yorkers to the natural environment, which in this city can be stores and restaurants although we hope they will visit the farms.This Sunday, we are having a benefit for City Harvest-cross-pollination is important to us and we'll continue to move slowly to grow the market in a sustainable fashion.Guest blogger Elizabeth T. Jones is a design strategist specializing in food design and green innovation. She lives and works in Brooklyn.Photo by William Coupon

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