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The long afternoon light cast a lazy hue yesterday on three of lower Manhattan's Greenmarkets. Most of New York's Greenmarkets aren't open on Sundays, but this cluster from Grand Street in Chinatown up through Tompkins Square Park to Stuyvesant/Peter Cooper Village is the perfect place for stocking up on summer's bounty with fewer crowds than Union Square, and far more neighborhood charm.

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My afternoon began at Grand and Norfolk Streets where a modest string of vendors were sweating under the hot sun, competing with the extensive network of cheap produce shops that already exist in Chinatown. It was a quiet little market with only a handful of customers. Fantasy Fruit Farm had a stand and were disappointingly out of Tristar strawberries, but I did pick up a pint of blackberries that were so ripe, they bled purplish juices all over my fingers.

Norwich Meadows Farm had the most varied and extensive selection of produce, all of which looked stunning: heirloom tomatoes, all kinds of bell and chili peppers, small eggplants, baby artichokes, cranberry beans, summer squash, many colors of beets, chards and kales, celery, and onions.

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After picking up some tiny yellow filet bush beans (they look like pale yellow haricot verts), I wound up towards the East Village, across Houston Street and up to Avenue A at 7th Street, at the Southwest corner of Tompkins Square Park. Compared to Grand Street, this place was hopping: crowds of chess players traded moves at the concrete tables while 15 or so vendors sold produce of every imaginable color and shape. Somewhere, a concert went on with its muffled bass absorbed by the overhanging trees. At the Madura Farms stand I was most impressed with their gorgeous and rare mushroom selection, including Maitake, the king of oyster, shiitake, Lion's Mane, cremini, and portobello varieties. They also had other current standards like carrots and beets.

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On the corner of Avenue A and 7th Streets, Stannard Farm had big beautiful watermelons on sale for $3 each, as well as 50-cent corn, red and green tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, and green and yellow beans.

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I spotted one of their watermelons in the hand of a chess player, who was handily beating his opponent while ostentatiously chewing and slurping.

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On my way further up Avenue A, I saw a second stand from the Fantasy Fruit people, also out of strawberries, but selling the same juicy ripe blackberries and blueberries.

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Toigo Orchards, also in wide operation at Washington D.C. area farmers' markets, had beautiful plums and peaches, offering samples of both. Next to them, there was a second stand by the folks at Norwich Meadows Farm; once again, so colorful and varied that it trumped all the others.

20080825marketsceneny11.jpgI spotted more of the baby artichokes and almost gave into the $10 per pound price tag, but resisted. A giant bin of ground cherries was equally hard to pass up.

After Tompkins Square Park, I headed for the final stop of the afternoon, the market hidden inside Stuyvesant Town (enter at Avenue A and 14th Street and bear right). At this point I'd seen all the produce I could see, but I was still charmed by the market's beautiful setting: inside Stuyvesant you forget you're in New York City, and this market--nestled in a park near playing children and acres of grass--was no different.

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Norwich Meadow Farms was holding court again, but Migliorelli had some better prices on most items.

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I sampled a few of the jams and chutneys from Beth's Farm Kitchen and took in the salty sea air near the Seatuck Fish Company booth from Eastport, Long Island.

Tired from walking but invigorated by the community charm that Greenmarkets inspire, I headed out from Stuyvesant Town, back into the hustle of 14th Street and took the Subway home. If I ever need Greenmarket produce on a Sunday again, lower Manhattan is where you'll find me.

About the author: Blake Royer lives in Brooklyn and spends most of his free time cooking and writing about it here at Serious Eats and on The Paupered Chef. From 9 to 5 weekdays, he works as an assistant book editor in Manhattan.

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