The Clinton Bailey Farmers Market
Itâ€™s before dawn on a warm SepÂtember morning. Farmers stand with boxes of colorful produce at their feet, lit by pools of bright light cast from the single bulbs that line the lengthy wooden shelter. Small trucks backed up to the structure with their doors flung wide, reÂveal rows and rows of produce; peaches in bushel baskets, racks of muskmelons, and cases of peppers.
Itâ€™s a typical Tuesday at the NiÂagara Frontier Growerâ€™s Co-operative Market, most commonly referred to as the Clinton Bailey Farmers Market. Since 1931, farmers have traveled great distances to arrive in the early hours of the morning at the market, located in the heart of Buffaloâ€™s industrial food district. The pre-dawn wholesale business used to be conducted six days a week, but in the last few decades the changes in farmÂing and the decrease in demand for fresh produce has translated into a massive reduction in the number of farmers that buy, sell and trade at the market. They now make the trek to Buffaloâ€™s East Side only three days per week.
Most of the farmers here come from family farms that have been passed down through generations, a few of them even recall coming to the market as children during its heyday in the 40s and 50s. Back then, competition was stiff and farmÂers arrived early to make sure that they could get a stall. Al Fox of WBEN would broadcast from the market, announcing what was in season and what it cost. Remembering how busy the market used to be, Tony Weiss of Weiss Farms recalled, â€śWhen I was, oh, knee-high to a grasshopper, I remember having to go to the bathroom but being scared I wouldn't be able to find my way back.â€ť At that time, our city, like so many others, was brimming with small grocers and indeÂpendent restaurants, looking to provide their customers with the freshest produce available at a good price. Today only a few such businesses shop at the market; Sam Guercio of Guercio & Sons is there almost every morning, along with Mark Hutchinson of Hutchâ€™s restaurant. RepreÂsentatives from the Lexington Co-op and Ex-Cel Produce are frequent visitors also.
Today, most people buy their groceries from large supermarket chains that, in many cases, ship their produce in from thousands of miles away--produce that has most likely been genetically engineered, treated with pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, and is often picked too early to prevent spoilage during its long journey from places as far away as South America. Glenn Sanger of Sanger Farms has been coming to the market for 32 years. He specializes in peaches, but also grows apples, cherries and concord grapes. â€śTen years ago, the farm papers told us that Free Trade would hurt the farmers first and the manufacturÂers second, but it was really the other way around. Itâ€™s only been in the last few years that weâ€™ve felt that part of the busiÂness really affect us.â€ť
As the need for single purchases of large quantities of fruits and vegetables has lessened, our regionâ€™s farmers have found alternative ways to keep their farms afloat. In the last few years, the Clinton Bailey Wholesale Market has seen an increase in business. Farmers have found that the retail stands they run on their own farms are increasingly profitable. They often buy crops from their peers that they themselves donâ€™t grow in order to offer their customers a broader selection. The popularity of city farmers markets has also increased their business; most of the farmÂers found at Clinton Bailey in the early morning sell their produce at one or more of the area markets, including Elmwood Bidwell, the Downtown Country Market, North Tonawandaâ€™s City Market and Clinton Baileyâ€™s Saturday morning retail market.
Restaurants and home cooks are looking for specialty items with growing regularity, and farmers are listening to their customers and adjusting their crops in response to special requests. Finally, the nationwide surge in demand for speÂcialty fruits and vegetables has opened up a niche market for many of them. As evidence of this, we spotted baskets of poblano peppers, yellow grape tomatoes and mini bell peppers, all new additions to local fields.
Jim Parise, manager of the Clinton Bailey Farmersâ€™ Market, along with his board of directors and stockholders, has inspired and effected great change in the market over the last few years. The market grounds and restrooms are spotless, colorful signs have been hung and landscaping added. â€śWeâ€™ve made giant steps to increase the family environment here, to make it a pleasant experience for all of our customers. In todayâ€™s market people want aesthetÂics, they want serviceâ€¦weâ€™re offering that.â€ť Every year farmers find more and more customers making the drive to the retail market from surrounding counties and taking home wares from the more than 40 purveyors that set up shop on Saturdays.
â€śThereâ€™s a steady increase of awareÂness amongst the public,â€ť Parise told Buffalo Rising. â€śEating locally is so much safer. Anything can happen during the importation process when you bring food in from other countries. Not only is eating local produce safer and healthÂier, it is also a catalyst for economic change.â€ť
Clinton Bailey Farmers Market
1443 Clinton Street, Buffalo 14206
Winter Hours (Nov 1 - April 30): Saturday 6 AM â€“ 1 PM
Summer Hours (May 1 â€“ Oct 31):
Sunday â€“ Friday 7 AM â€“ 6 PM
Saturday 6 AM â€“ 6 PM
Summer Hours (May 1 â€“ Oct 31):
Saturday,Tuesday,Thursday:2 AM â€“ 6 AM