Thursday, May 15, 2008

Shopping for Produce in Upstate New York

Among the many challenges of moving back to New York has been the inability to find decent produce. Having moved to Saratoga Springs from Boston, I was used to having Whole Foods Market, Trader Joes as-well-as the local farmer's markets in Boston and Cambridge. Let's also not forget that I could stop into the North End on a weekly basis to pick up my borrata cheese (fresh mozzarella with cream inside), Italian charcuterie and then go off to Cambridge to Formaggio Kitchen for some specialty produce like framboise from France, hundreds of cheeses from all over the world. Gotta say I miss the joys of Super 88 as well, an Asian supermarket that is the size of most generic supermarkets, but this one also comes with a full variety of Asian fast food stalls in front as well. Let's call it an Asian food court of sorts, which really doesn't do it justice.

So what do we have in upstate New York? Our main grocery store is Price Chopper. Now Price Chopper isn't a bad grocery store. Some locations are better than others, so consistansy of product offerings can be spotty. They are a local company, out of Schenectady, NY and as such it seems they limit themselves to what they think the local market is used to. Once in awhile exotic ingredients pop up, but honestly is daikon, key lime, ugli fruit, or plantain all that exotic? Their selection of organic produce is limited to the most common ingredients like bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and the sort all from a mass production California farm, to me this is one step away from what Wal-Mart is going to do, buy organic produce from China. I have to say though, over the years they have improved, but I think there is quite a bit more room to improve as well.

Hannaford has worked a little harder at making an effort to offer organics and "whole" foods to their consumers by offering a full section that is quite substantial to their customers. Price Chopper has this section in some stores as well, but it is in some stores, not all and in many the section is hidden while Hannaford places the section is extreme prominence in the center of the store or in a section all guests will readily see it. Additionally Hannaford's organic produce is a bit more substantial and labeled well. This may be part of the reason that Hannaford has been certified as an organic grocery store which it shares along with Whole Foods, but they certainly are not at the same level yet. Again though, like Price Chopper, Hannaford's organic produce is the California factory-farmed produce.

Major differences, Whole Foods is clean, it is ALWAYS clean. Hannaford, at least not all of their stores can state this. Trader Joe's is extremely inexpensive, they sell a large variety of organic foods and they are often as inexpensive as most generic grocery store's sale items. The people who work at Whole Foods are extremely excited, happy to be working there (or at least act that way) and are very knowledgeable. I can not tell you how often I go into a Price Chopper or Hannaford and I have to listen to cashiers and employees bitch about their lives and their jobs, just on a whole unprofessional.

So what are the other options, well luckily we have great great farms in this area. We even have a large number of farmer's markets with some of them being year round. The Saratoga Springs' market held at High Rock is a particular joy, and I have heard wondrous things about both the Troy, NY market and even the Albany and Schenectady markets. There is even one in Ballston Spa where one of my fellow chef instructor's daughters displays her wondrous produce. So there is one great option, as long as you are willing to go with their schedules.

I've also been told that there are a number of local farms producing high quality goat meat, chickens and eggs. What is still lacking however is the style of Italian markets found in most major cities, or even just meat markets and seafood markets in general. Yes yes, many will tell me that we have Cousins market in Albany, and no I don't find them all that great honestly. Good enough, is not great and I find them as a whole to be good enough. They get the generic stuff in and if you really want anything Im sure they will get it for you, and charge you up the nose for it as well, and you also can't just buy one or two fillets or small fish either, not a good option for a single person like myself.

So what do I do if I want a special piece of fish, or high quality prosciutto, cheese or otherwise? Do I need to order it from some far reaching producer who will charge me an absurd price, not to mention shipping costs which I have done and won't do again, not worth the price. For now I think the answer is to stick to the local farms, I belong to one local community supported agriculture farm at the moment and will be joining my work colleagues' daughter's farm soon as well (just need to write the check).

We also have a few co-ops and green grocery stores in the area. I shop at the Green Grocer in Clifton Park, NY. In Saratoga Springs, NY there is a smaller shop on Phila Street called Four Seasons while in Albany they have the Honest Weight Food Co-Op which many of my friends have raved about, but I have yet to make it to.

I have also found that there is a Whole Foods Market 77 miles from me in Hadley, Ma so perhaps every other week I may drive out there to pick up better meats, fish and other items which I can not attain locally as most of the "higher quality meats in the co-ops seem to be sold frozen, not fresh.

We all need to do our effort to preserve real food, otherwise we will all be eating generic mass marketed foods with no taste or flavor. One has to worry when Wal-Mart and Target make the claims that they plan to be the largest sellers of organic and whole foods. As much as I have disdained much of the snobbery of the localvore and other movements, I see what many of them are going for i just wish they didn't "preach" so much so that others would find the concept more appealing. I am going to list a number of local farmer's markets in the Capital district area of New York below for anyone who may be interested in seeking them out for themselves.

Farmer's Markets in the Capital District of New York

Capital district Farmer's Market
381 Broadway
Menands, New York 12204

Troy Farmer's market
Hedley Park Place, on River St in Troy, NY
Every Saturday from 9am to 1pm.

Saratoga Farmer's Market
Saratoga Springs
Summer Market: May - October

Wednesday, 3:00pm-6:00pm
Saturday, 9:00am-1:00pm
High Rock Ave.

Winter Market: November - April
Saturday, 9:00am-1:00pm
Salvation Army Building,
Woodlawn Ave.

Clifton Park
July - October
Thursday, 2:00pm-5:00pm
St. George's Church parking lot,
Rte. 146 - 1 miles W. of I-87 Exit 9


HoneyB said...

I'm from the St. Lawrence County area and I have to say the selection here is REALLY limited. I have to drive an hour to get to Watertown and the selection there is P&C, Hannaford, Price Chopper, and Aldi. When I lived in Syracuse area there was Wegmans and THAT is one grocery I really miss!

I found you on a cooking search!

Christopher Allen Tanner said...

i have yet to goto a Wegmans, I have heard great stuff about them but have been told they won't come into this area because of Price Chopper.

sara said...

I live just north of you (in Moreau). We joined a community supported agriculture farm this year, Our Farm CSA (, and got our first week's worth of produce yesterday. I think CSA is one of the best options for getting great produce at a really affordable price in this area.

The Glens Falls farmer's market is also year-round now, although I have not yet checked out its winter selection.

I'm glad to have fouond your blog!

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