On the Street, in the Market

The summer I was 13, my family moved from Maine to Michigan. That September, I navigated my way toward a locker on the first day of eighth grade. The tiny coastal town we had left behind had only 600 residents. At my new middle school, the student body alone topped 800. The bell rang, and I was swept into the human current of passing time. In five minutes, I had to figure out the combination to my locker, how to get to Latin class, and most importantly: what to wear. Around me, kids bounded through the hall dressed in University of Michigan regalia. Girls hung by their lockers, perfecting the application of mascara before miniature mirrors. Boys sported oversized t-shirts that bore a name I didn’t recognize: Tommy Hilfiger. Who was Tommy? He must be popular.

“It’s a brand,” a girl in my advisory sighed when I asked. I would have to make more friends to find out what a “brand” was.

I did make more friends, but even so, I was plotting my escape back to the East Coast. Each Sunday, The New York Times arrived on our doorstep. My father took the Week in Review, my mother the Arts section. I dove right for the Style pages. With the same vigilance I had used to study my classmates’ clothing, I now focused on a collage of photos snapped in the streets of the city where I would one day live. Leather fringe, polka dots, neon shades, seersucker suits, and stilettos caught the attention of the photographer, Bill Cunningham. His eye for style trained my own. When I moved the next time, I would already know how to dress when I arrived.

How I came to manage press and communications for Greenmarket, the non-profit that operates over fifty farmers’ markets across the five boroughs, is another story. By the time I landed that dream job, I was well versed in dressing the way the weather made me feel. Bill had taught me how.

Bill, surveying shoppers at Union Square in 2015.

Now living in Brooklyn, I still flipped to On the Street each Sunday to get my fix. The longer I lived in the city, the better I became at predicting what I would find in Bill’s column. In spring, when the forsythia had burst into bloom, he captured women wearing boundlessly joyful yellow trench coats, tennis skirts, sandals, and gloves. Later in June, when the ants had nibbled the buds of the peonies open, he meditated on magenta. In my professional capacity, I was always thrilled to see that he had featured orchids from Silva Orchids, the marvelous lilies grown by Ana Tudorof of Dutchmill Gardens, or the buckets of sunflowers that spilled out of the Oak Grove tents. On a personal note, as I walked through the market on my morning rounds to see what was new at the stands, I felt like I was strutting down the catwalk. Fashion, like produce, is seasonal. Fairytale eggplant and heirloom tomatoes inspired me to put on corresponding batiks from Senegal and vintage dresses that had once belonged to my mother. In August, when the full throttle of harvest arrived in bushel baskets, I let the produce do the talking; like so many women Bill photographed that month, I always wore black.

A 2013 market spread from Bill Cunningham of The New York Times.

On Saturdays, Bill could regularly be spotted in his signature blue jacket, ducking between the market’s stalls, snapping customers as they tucked bundles of radishes into designer handbags. Ironically, the mornings I spied him seemed to be the off days I dressed in an understated tank top and denim cut offs. I never made it into his collage. But over the years, many of Greenmarket’s farmers became regulars. Beth Linskey, of Beth’s Farm Kitchen, grew famous for the fascinator hats she and her crew donned at Easter. He included half of the Union Square staff the day he ran a spread on red and black plaid. Once, I attempted to shadow him until there seemed an appropriate moment to say hello. It was hard to keep up as he darted through the crowds from the north plaza, around the corner to Union Square West. Finally, breathless, I popped up beside him, and whispered, so as not to blow his cover, “I admire your work.” Bill turned to me, grinning, as he always was in the market, high on the same palate of humanity that made me excited to do my job each day. He simply bobbed his head by way of recognition, and got back to work. Even though he has passed, I imagine I’ll still dress for the market as if we might have another chance encounter. I like to think he’ll be forever hiding in the snapdragons, looking out for someone to catch his eye.

Want to learn more about GrowNYC and our $40 for 40 campaign? Visit http://www.grownyc.org/blog/greenmarket-40-40.

Stories from the Greenmarket community as we celebrate 40 years of bringing healthy fresh local food to NYC.

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