Talking with the new manager of the Troy farmers' market

Troy Waterfront Farmers Market River Street

The Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market starts is it's new outdoor season this Saturday morning on River Street in downtown Troy.

And its 17th season includes a new manager: Liz Hammond. She comes to the job with experiences that include both working on farms and the Veggie Mobile, Capital Roots' mobile vegetable market.

We met up with Hammond this week to talk about the state of the market, its place in the local food scene, and the connections between the market's producers and customers.

It sounds like a lot of your previous experiences have been leading in this direction. Can you tell us a little bit about some of those experiences and how they flow into what you're doing now?

It's just been a lifelong passion about food, especially surrounding animals when I was kid. I was like a super vegetarian/vegan most of my life, and kind of dipped into activism with that. So it led me down more a food justice/food access road. And so then in college I started studying agro-ecology, and that's what I ended up getting a degree in. And then when I finished up at Evergreen [State College], I designed a program where I came back to a farm more downstate and I worked there. And I started working on farms for about three years. And that kind of gives you a good picture and background of where your food comes from. I did a lot animal husbandry stuff, I worked a lot with draft horses. Most everything organic farms. Did some WWOOF-ing on the West Coast, southern Ontario, things like that.

So when I was finishing up my last farming season in southern Ontario, all my family is from this area... my grandparents were born in Watervliet. I was born in Queensbury, but I grew up in Rome, New York. So my family all relocated back out here. And [in 2012] I found on Craigslist a job for the Veggie Mobile at Capital Roots. And I called them like every week to be like, come on, you're still looking for someone? I really want to work for you, I really want to work for you. I came here, did the interview, got the job.

Liz Hammond Troy Waterfront Farmers Market manager
Liz Hammond

And then my third day here in Troy my aunt brought me to the farmers' market. And I was just completely blown away. It's one of the best markets I've been to anywhere. I just found it very impressive. I think it reflected well on the community that is here in Troy. And also on the producers that it's an economically viable and sustainable marketplace to support that structure. It's so many people and it continues to grow.

So, yeah. I wanted to stay here for that... mostly. (laughs) And then I left Capital Roots last year and then did something very left field, I did project coordination for commercial plumbing and heating contractors. And then this job came about, and I was like, oh my gosh, that's a dream job... there's no way, no way.

And some of my friends are vendors. And a lot of my community is here in Troy, I live here in Troy. And they were like, no, you should do it. So, I applied and got the job and cried in my truck for a half hour after I found out. (laughs)

What your sense of the state of the market right now?

It's doing very, very well. And it has the potential to keep growing. It's something that needs to be really carefully considered because our main focus is to have it be a viable and sustainable marketplace for our producers.

So we have, right now, going into the summer 86 [vendors]. And four of those are incubators -- they're new businesses that are only doing every other week at the market. And so right now we're taking into deep consideration how to fine tune the programs that we do have, or formalize the programs that we're talking about. And rather than just continuously grow, we have a cap that's in our bylaws -- a maximum of 100 producers. That's still huge, it's a tremendous amount of vendors to have in a marketplace that goes year round.

It's really in demand. But there's a lot to do in terms of fine tuning and being able to reach out to the community more. Things we're considering are a volunteer program I'm trying to formalize, [and] a kids program. These are basic things that I'm trying to do while I get the lay of the land. But also [looking] at how we can increase efforts toward food access. We do accept EBT and SNAP benefits and a lot of people aren't aware of that. [EBT cards can be used to get tokens that work like cash at individual vendors.]

This is maybe the most prominent farmers' market in the area, and the very least, it's one of the biggest. What do you think the market's place is in the local food scene?

It's the one event that happens every single week that brings in 6,000-8,000 people into the downtown area. We work very closely with downtown retailers and the Troy BID.

It's also a huge cultural center and kind of community center. We've been doing a lot of surveys to see how often people come to market and why they're coming. One thing you have to be careful of when you run a market of this size -- and we have musicians this summer, we're doing two tents for musicians -- is not making it solely a festival event, where the atmosphere is huge. We want people to shop and support our farmers and producers. So it plays a huge economic role.

It is a meeting place. There have been people who have been coming since it started, that meet every morning right as it opens at the same spot and they get their breakfast. But most of the people, in the surveys we've been doing, they come each week to get their food. I don't know if you've noticed this about Troy, but there are not many places in walking distance downtown where you can get fresh food. So I feel like the market does provide that, and it's some relief to the fact this is a food desert. And Capital Roots obviously does a lot of efforts in that, and there have been some other smaller efforts made. But the market is definitely a huge opportunity for people of all backgrounds and economic capacities to have access to fresh food.

What do you think farmers are looking to get from the market right now?

A good business! And also the Troy market gets a lot of publicity, and you get to tap into this magical community that is Troy and its surrounding areas.

A lot of people feel strongly about connecting with the producer and then they're their producer and they go each week. They're concerned sometimes if we move people. They're like, you can't put that person next to that person because I buy this from that person and I don't want them to know I buy this from that person. (laughs) So people do feel very strong connections to their farmers, and bakers, and cheese makers, and soap makers. Producers really, really value that. And it allows them a lot comfort in know that they can come each week and see these people have this business.

"So people do feel very strong connections to their farmers, and bakers, and cheese makers, and soap makers. Producers really, really value that. And it allows them a lot comfort in know that they can come each week and see these people have this business."

So I think they look for all of that. But I'm still learning, and I'm still learning more about what they need and want. And it's an ever-growing thing. And maybe if you ask me this in a year, I'll have a completely different answer!

One of the great things about farmers' markets is that they put you in touch with foods that are seasonal. Is there specific crop or food that you get really stoke about when it's in season?

Yeah, peaches. But unfortunately my heart is breaking because with that cold snap that we had a lot of fruit trees got damaged and a lot of peaches were vulnerable during that time. A lot of the producers say they're not out of the running completely, but it definitely took a hit.

I love fruit. I eat fruit every day, tons of fruit. Berries. I love strawberries. But, yeah, peaches are one of my favorite things. That's something I really look forward to.

This interview has been edited and condensed.
____

The Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market is Saturdays from 9 am-2 pm on the section of River Street between Fulton and Monument Square. A heads-up: In late July, the market will be moving Riverfront Park for the rest of the summer because sidewalk and roadway construction in downtown Troy.

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