A former dancer on a different stage.
Nevia No was a dancer with a studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, when she married a farmer, and eight years ago, she talked him into joining Greenmarket. Since then, they’ve parlayed a single location in Bay Ridge into six weekly markets—their sole source of income—including Mondays and Fridays at Union Square, where they’ve become exceedingly popular among chefs and civilians alike. “We’re known for Asian ethnic vegetables and lots of heirloom varieties,” says No, whose stand is distinguished by its gorgeous arrangements of greens, beans, and aromatic peppers, artfully displayed against white-linen tablecloths. “Everything stands out on the white background. I tried different colors, but white is the best,” she says. “Every night I do three loads of laundry.” No often sets up a portable grill to demonstrate how to cook some of her more exotic produce, like the shishito peppers that have taken New York menus by storm. Their crop selection changes often, depending on demand. “I go by my gut,” says No. “I read lots of books on food and fashion and styles and trends, so I have an idea of what people are expecting every year.” Her customers, she says, are “curious—not afraid of trying new things. Sometimes they know more than I do. They eat a lot.” Still, there’s the occasional clueless question. Like, “ ‘Why don’t you grow lemons and avocados?,’ ” No says. “I tell them those cannot be grown regionally. You need a hotter and more tropical climate.” Almost everything they do grow on their 105-acre Burlington County farm is harvested the day before market. “We end up throwing out so much,” she says. That emphasis on freshness and flavor has its financial consequences. “I tend to have one of the higher prices in the market. I’m aware of that. But my philosophy is, you get what you pay for.”
WHERE TO FIND
Union Square; Mt. Sinai
Abingdon Square; Tucker Square
Ron Binaghi Jr. hasn’t missed a Saturday Greenmarket since he was 16, back when it started.
Ron Binaghi Jr. is a fifth-generation produce and plant farmer whose father worked the inaugural Greenmarket in 1976. His Stokes Farm stand anchors the northeastern edge of Union Square three days a week, perfuming the air with basil and rosemary. “In the early seventies, wholesale sales were slumping and the gas crisis had just started,” says Binaghi. “My dad saw this as an opportunity to try New York City.” Of course, Manhattan wasn’t exactly terra incognita; Binaghi’s house is just 27 miles from Union Square. “You can see the Empire State Building from the roof of my barn,” he says. “I can be picking tomatoes today and tonight I can go see Rent. I can go to a Yankee game, come home, and still make my tomorrow-morning wake-up call.” It’s that proximity as much as family tradition that explains why Binaghi has resisted the temptation to sell his extremely valuable suburban land and call it quits. That, and the fact that he loves what he does. On a typical market day, he’s “up at 4:15, on a loading dock at 4:30. We take everything out of the cooler and load three trucks. We’re on the road by 5, 5:10, in the market by about 6, have breakfast, hang out, maybe take a nap in the cab, and all the help shows up at quarter to 7.” When it comes to selling, looks do matter—but so does psychology. “Why is it that the box of tomatoes underneath the counter that’s all dented and not really good, why does it sell first? Because people can’t reach them. If it’s only one tomato left—oh, forget it. It’s like poison,” says Binaghi. “They won’t buy it. It can’t be good.” From his Union Square perch, Binaghi has a direct view of his main competition, but he’s not worried. “You go to Whole Foods, they do a great job. They can probably mimic almost anything that we can do: the product, the display. The thing they can’t copy is us. Or the freshness: They can’t reproduce the freshness. Picked today and sold tomorrow.”
WHERE TO FIND
Wedneday, Friday, Saturday