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A Point of View: Remembering the Clinton Bailey Market experience

In the days of my youth, there probably was not a farmer or food buyer who was not familiar with the grandeur of the Clinton and Bailey Farmers Market in Buffalo. Farmers and food buyers from Concord, Collins, West Valley, Colden, Boston, Sardinia, Hamburg, Eden and beyond were familiar with the awesomeness of the market of locally grown produce. It was then, and still is today, a busy, thriving, major wholesale and retail outlet of grown produce. It had its beginning in 1931.

In my youth, the brilliant and vibrant colors of a full array of fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and baked goods was a spectacular scene on the busy walks of the Buffalo Clinton and Bailey market. Rural farmers, urban business people and city-dwellers all made up the population of folks, selling and selecting their produce.

This was the breathtaking picture, as I remembered it as a boy, back in the 1930s and 1940s. There was a maze of assorted vegetables and fresh fruits with all the colors imaginable: red tomatoes, green cucumbers and beans, purple eggplant, yellow squash, orange carrots and pumpkins, white cauliflower, tan and red potatoes, golden onions and a variety of luscious apples, cherries, peaches, grapes and plums. The aroma of freshly cut dill, fennel seeds and newly picked cucumbers permeated the morning atmosphere with a pungency of flavor never to be forgotten.

The farmers market was the gem of a jewel for area farmers, food producers, produce distributors and home consumers. Probably, there was not a household in Western New York that was not affected, one way or another, with the flow of produce that transpired on the walks of the farmers market.

But, what a heap of work took place on the farm, before going to market each day. Putting the market load together (as we called it then) was a family affair. Cucumbers and pickles, of all sizes, needed to be picked, sorted, counted, washed and packed. There were string beans, both yellow and green, to pick, wash, weigh and pack, some in smaller baskets and other in bushel baskets. Sweet corn needed to be picked, sorted, counted and boxed. Cauliflower was tied, cut, trimmed, sorted and crated. New potatoes were dug, handpicked, sorted, washed, weighed, and bagged. Summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes and sweet peppers required special handling, because of the fragile nature of the produce. Often, much of this worked was done and readied before the evening milking, feeding and bedding of the dairy herd. The final job of the day was to load the farm truck with all the prepared produce to be taken to market that evening or very early the next morning.

Some farmers went to the market late in the evening, in order to secure a marketing stall. This meant that the farmer would attempt to get an hour or two of sleep in the truck before the opening of the new market day. Others would rent a stall for the season and would not get to market until an hour or so before the opening.

At 5 a.m., the market lights went on and, almost like magic, the market walkways were aglow with all the brilliance of every imaginable color and array of fragrance of the freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. Some of the people were city-dwellers, others were country farmers. But, they were all a neighborly family of hardworking folks, appreciating much of what nature had to offer. No wonder the Clinton and Bailey Market was more than just a place. It was truly an event.

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