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Why I’ll miss the Havens Farmers Market; it’s not just about the lettuce

There was one place on Shelter Island where parking was still tight every September Saturday morning; the Havens Farmers Market at the Shelter Island Historical Society. Now that it’s over, there’s a big hole in my weekend.  I’ll find another source for spicy salad greens, but how will I replace the chitchat?

I was in New York a few days after the last Shelter Island market, where a visit to the Union Square Greenmarket, open year-round and attracting as many as 60,000 shoppers a day, showed me that I may no longer be fit for city life. My first stop was to buy squid at P.E. and D.D. Seafood, the stand of a couple of fishers from Riverhead. The fishmonger and I discussed the state of blowfish (more of them; more people wanting to eat them) and then moved on to speculation about the impending opening of bay scallop season. During the 15 minutes I lingered, talking fish with the folks at P.E. and D.D., other customers eyed the fish, bought some, but did not join the discussion. This should have been a sign to me.

In need of apples, I stopped at the stand of an upstate farm and began picking through the Galas and Mutsus. A vaguely familiar-looking man and a woman stood near me at a bin of quince–a hard, green fruit about the size and shape of an apple–discussing the question of quince ripeness. Seeing my chance to be friendly and helpful, I told them that quince is not edible when raw, and I’m partial to Paula Wolfert’s technique of baking quince slices with apples to turn them into a soft, fragrant jam.

The woman glared and said, “This is David Lebowitz,” (author of at least 10 popular cookbooks).

My attempt at Shelter Island-style market friendliness had failed.

The Havens Farmers market was organized by Bri and Dan Fokine nine years ago, and has been held on the grounds of the Historical Society ever since. It was a hit because on Shelter Island, everybody eats, and many people cook. They have to. Otherwise they’d starve here in the winter. But the other thing that gets you through a long winter is a strong community, and that’s where the Haven’s Market really shines.

Tim Purtell goes every week without fail, and he and his partner Robin have become friends with some of the vendors like Nicki Gohorel and Selçuk Kele, a local couple who make nut butters. In addition to all the farmers, Tim says he often finds people he’s been trying to reach by phone or email. “As Robin often says, the market is an experience you don’t get at the big box stores…. When I go, I always say I’ll be back in 20 minutes but he knows it will take at least an hour and a half.”

Kim Teodoru is a regular at the Havens market because she loves the community, but also because she faces an insurrection from her daughter Madigan if she brings home eggs from mistreated chickens or milk from cows kept in inhumane conditions; hard to avoid in a conventional grocery store. Maddie is a teenager now, but Kim said she’s been an advocate for responsible farming practices since she was five, and old enough to care about cows.

Jackie Black loves to socialize at the market, especially in canine company, since at the Havens market, dogs who get free run of the couch, and the right to lick up whatever falls on the kitchen floor can also have a say in the food shopping. Jackie noticed that Patsy, a black and tan beagle/ dachshund “likes to follow toddlers as they snack on jerky” and didn’t see much to sniff at KKs, but was very impressed with the meat selection at Goodales on the last day of the market, “The vibe is good,” she said. “It’s a place of joy and camaraderie in the common bond of food.”

Cris DiOrio, who has managed the market for the past two years runs Island Time Farm with his partner Kelci McDonald. They are currently the only Island-based vegetable growers at the market, and thanks to a state grant, this winter they will put up a hoop house to extend their planting season, and make their farming more space-efficient. (All this I found out while buying shishito peppers)

I miss the market. Now that it’s over for the season, Cris and Kelci are still selling lettuce, tomatoes, flowers and peppers from the honor-stand in front of the farm, but even I have trouble striking up a conversation with inanimate objects.  If you want to talk about how to cook those quince fruits hanging off the shrub in your yard, hit me up.