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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, had heard about the New Amsterdam Market on South Street near Peck Slip. In fact, he had supported it in various ways since founder, Robert LaValva, put the New Amsterdam Market on the Lower Manhattan map in 2005. But Silver had never seen it.
On Sunday, Sept. 25, he had a few minutes in his schedule before dashing off for a ribbon cutting at the new Battery Park City ball fields, so he stopped by. “It’s really important to see the market in the context of its site and in relation to the vision we have for the old fish market,” LaValva said.
LaValva has his eye on those old Fulton Fish Market buildings, which could allow the New Amsterdam Market to expand into a permanent presence, like the famed Pike Place Market in Seattle.
Speaker Silver arrived at 11 a.m. just as the market was opening. “He enjoyed seeing that we already had a crowd of shoppers even then,” LaValva said. “He commented on the liveliness of the scene. And he was very interested in the fact that we were hosting so many small businesses and that they were beginning to grow here. He liked hearing that.”As Silver strolled through the market, he asked a number of the vendors if they were making money. Chris Forbes, co-owner of Brooklyn-based Sour Puss Pickles, was one of them. “I told him that the market has helped us enormously,” Forbes said.
Forbes and his partner, Evelyn Evers, started their business early in 2010, pickling many kinds of seasonal, fresh vegetables. Forbes said the New Amsterdam Market had helped them gain recognition in the community. They also sell their pickles at the Fulton Stall Market on the other side of South Street, he said, and at specialty grocers.
Forbes said he wasn’t surprised to see Speaker Silver. “There have been a number of people of renown who have come through here,” he commented. Chef Alice Waters made a particular impression on him.
On the Sunday of Speaker Silver’s visit, there were many vendors from upstate New York. “Today we have a group of individuals representing different coalitions who are very concerned with the practice of fracking,” said LaValva. “This is something that’s being debated in New York State government right now and when they approached me about having a forum at the market, I was happy that we could provide that. I think that’s the role of a public market – to be a forum for discussion.
“Their concern is how fracking could impact agriculture and when you begin to look at it you realize that so much of New York State agriculture production is in areas where there’s potential fracking. So the whole point of them being here today is to show our shoppers how much of their food could potentially be affected – not just in New York State but, for example, we have a crab cake vendor who is getting crabs from the Chesapeake Bay and the Chesapeake Bay is directly affected by what happens in New York State because of the Susquehanna River that runs down into the bay. If poisons were flowing down the river, that could damage that whole ecosystem.”
LaValva said that he had “let the Speaker’s staff know that these groups would be there and he made a point of stopping by, shaking their hands and taking some of their literature.”
The New Amsterdam Market is growing, and has just received a grant of $250,000 from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation that should help it to grow even more. LaValva said he will use the L.M.D.C. money for marketing. “If we build an increasing shopping audience, it will help us build an increasing vendor audience,” he said. But, he added, “For us it’s a very careful process to bring on new vendors because they have to represent the mission of this market and not every person does that.”
LaValva explained what he meant by that. “The Greenmarkets revived the tradition of farmers bringing fresh produce and other farm goods into the city,” he said. “The New Amsterdam Market was created to support small businesses that support farmers by sourcing their ingredients from them. These small businesses such as butchers, grocers, cheesemongers, bakers — and pickle makers — work with farms and farmers’ markets to develop a new food system. We are only at the beginning of this process.”
On November 13, the New Amsterdam Market will be hosting the Peck Slip Pickle Festival — an offshoot of an event that had been previously held on the Lower East Side.
“That event was very popular so we hope Pickle Day will bring a whole new audience to South Street,” LaValva said, “demonstrating how the New Amsterdam Market is leading the revitalization of the Fulton Fish Market and the East River Market District.”