Walking the Walk in Port Washington

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From the moment the weather turns mild through the humid days of late summer to the slow chill of October, the town dock in Port Washington is alive. Runners practice for road races, artists take up position painting the Manhasset Bay, dogs walk their owners but it’s the Saturday farmers market that makes the area a destination.

Locals start to gather well before the vendors officially open at 8 a.m., coming for the local fish, produce and other artisan food products but also for the company.

“People stay the whole morning, they get a cup of organic coffee, sit in the cafe, talk and watch the world go by,” says Port Washington resident and market founder Patti Wood.

During harvest season farmers markets throughout Long Island become outdoor community centers, but the Port Washington Farmers Market is unique in that when Wood founded the market 15 years ago it was the only all-organic market in New York State. It’s a title the market retains to this day. As the executive director of Grassroots Environmental Education, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about the links between common toxins and health, it was an easy decision to be all-organic.

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“If we’re going to talk the talk we have to walk the walk,” Wood says. “Otherwise why wouldn’t you just go to Stop and Shop?”

The market’s all-organic stance hasn’t hindered its ability to attract vendors, of which there are currently about 12.

“It’s unique, the woman who runs it has very high standards,” says Alethea Vasilas, whose father, Peter, owns Orient Organics, one of the two farmers that anchor the market.

Orient Organics and Golden Earthworm Organic Farm are both NOFA certified and all the other vendors, including a florist, baker, goat cheese producer and the many more, are either organic certified or must submit a letter stating which ingredients they use and proving they are organic.

“We want people invested in eating this way,” Wood says.

Which isn’t to say the market is an easy undertaking. From the farmers and artisan producers who drive their truckloads of organic goods from as far away as the East End, to the high school students who volunteer in the cafe serving organic coffee with organic milk and sucanat, to Wood who bakes 9 to 12 dozen organic muffins every Saturday in her certified kitchen, there’s a ton of work going into every market day.

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“I’m not a muffin person but people line up for them” Wood says. Her trick is to single batch bake them and she lives close enough to the market to be able to run home for more as they run out.

In the years since the market began, interest in what and how food is produced has exploded and Wood attributes that to some of the success.

“Customers are lot more educated, they have specific things they are buying, and it’s become a gathering of like minded people.” Wood says.

Muffins, organic produce, and like-minded people have made it the place to be on Saturday mornings in Port Washington.

“It’s on the water, the people are nice, it’s a beautiful place,” says Johanna Pesantez who runs the Chez Hedwige booth selling organic and gluten-free breads and baked goods.

The Port Washington Organic Farmers Market at the Town Dock is open every Saturday from June through October, from 8:00 a.m. to noon.

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