Monday, May 10, 2010

The Carrot Barn

Today 's adventure started with my recent birthday gift from my aunt-- an immersion blender... yessssss. In my excitement to blend things ASAP, I asked around for some recipes. Heather's quick and simple potato leek soup seemed right-- with just a few ingredients, I could whip it up quickly and cheaply for dinner tonight. She also suggested a local market that was sure to have all the ingredients. Just the thing!

So, on my way home from work, I veered off my usual path to stop at The Carrot Barn, a greenhouse/farmstand/market on NY 30S in Schoharie County (just a few miles off exit 23 on Rt. 88). Knowing Schoharie as the farming stronghold that it is, I was pretty excited. A cornucopia of vegetables danced through my head as my little Civic weaved down the country road. I had been here once before, about a year ago, with some co-workers to buy baked goods (as their name might suggest, they're known for their carrot cake, cookies, and muffins), but at the time, I hadn't paid attention to whatever else they'd had to offer.

The Carrot Barn is an interesting combination of venues. First of all, there are the baked goods, and they all look amazing; fortunately, my willpower was strong today and I was able to resist. Secondly, if you are a small-scale farmer (i.e. a person with a garden), you can buy all kinds of flowers, herbs, and vegetable plants, as well as "starters" for potatoes, onions, garlic, etc. (Mmm.. someday...) Then there are the typical "little country store" goods like honeys and jams to fill in the nooks and crannies. But foremost, I would say, TCB is a market, and this is what I was here for.

I went straight for the potato stand, and I was impressed by the selection and the prices. I ended up buying a small mesh bag of Gold Yukon potatoes for $2.50. I'm not sure on the weight, but it was enough to make a large batch of potato soup for dinner, and there was a significant improvement in quality, texture, and flavor over any grocery store potato I've ever eaten.

This success was followed by a disappointment: they were all out of leeks. However, I didn't leave empty-handed. In fact, I eventually left the store with the following: potatoes, fresh spinach, new asparagus, and rhubarb. Unfortunately, not enough to make a meal unless I was cooking for rabbits; I was going to have to make another stop, but still, it was pretty exciting.
One precaution: read the signs around here carefully. Not all of the produce they sell is home-grown. There are two types of signs: "Our Own" or "From the Farm" meaning they grew it, or "Market Fresh." Confused, I asked the owner what was the difference. Apparently, "Market Fresh" means they send their son to the market in Menands to "hand-pick" the fruits and veggies that they will sell here. The benefit, as compared with super markets, is that he personally selects every item sold, so it is all fresh and beautiful (and I will vouch for this-- I saw a perfectly artful stand of tomatoes that I just wanted to take a picture of). However, it is
not necessarily local.. according to her, the market gets food from all over the country (and I assume all over the world, since there was a stand of bananas, too), and there's no mention of organic anywhere. So it is beautiful mystery food.

I didn't buy any of this ambiguous produce, I wanted local today, so I was initially disappointed by the lack of local selection. However, The Carrot Barn isn't to blame. According to, a website on natural and local living (and who gets their information from the government), the only produce in season right now in New York is asparagus, radishes, spinach, broccoli, and rhubarb... ALL of which was available here, as well as spring garlic, leeks, and various potatoes. And it was reasonably priced, which was even better. I assume as more produce comes to harvest, their shelves will be much fuller. And going by the potatoes alone, I imagine the rest to be amazingly delicious, too.

Lessons? 1. Eating green and locally is not one-stop-shopping. You have to look around for price, selection, and availability, buying a few things here and a few things there. This is becoming easier and much less overwhelming as I become acquainted with the various venues around the area, yet I'm still slow to give up convenience, and have to start meal planning, for sure.
2. Eating in season is a challenge. We are used to having any food available at any time. What do I eat when the only things available are radishes, spinach, and asparagus? It will be a test of my planning, storage, and cooking creativity, but I think I can learn.
3. Definitely make The Carrot Barn a stop in your shopping routine. The drive isn't bad, especially on a sunny spring day like today, the produce is yummy and inexpensive, and you can pick up some carrot cookies for dessert!

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