Editor's note: What's it like to be a vendor at Brooklyn's popular—and competitive—outdoor market Smorgasburg? Here's Rockville Market Farm.
In last week's column, we wrote about two of the less conventional vendors at Smorgasburg: noodle manufacturer Sun Noodle's Ramen Lab, a ramen incubator and educator, and Rockville Market Farm, the Vermont farm stand that peddles maple lemonade and butternut squash doughnuts. (The latter are good enough to have made it into New York Magazine's Cheap Eats issue this year.) While farmer Eric Rozendaal doesn't see Rockville as trailing a new path, his participation in Smorgasburg offers a model for farmers looking to both expand their presence and add value to their crops.
In our interview, Eric stressed how important his stand at Smorgasburg has been to his farm given the spell of bad weather we have endured for the last three years and the looming uncertainty he faces in the future. He emphasized the historical difficulty of farming in New England and Vermont more specifically, and how you have to tackle any opportunity that comes your way. Rockville had tried out the CSA model, but dropped it this year, after three years, because of bad weather. They focus instead on just a few crops, which this year include salad greens, greenhouse tomatoes, and butternut squash.
"It's just really, really hard for one farm to produce forty to fifty crops in an interesting manner," Eric said. "We've become increasingly more specialized over the years. The whole CSA movement is evolving, it's a young business model, but the idea of one farm growing so many high quality crops in the Northeast just isn't that realistic."
Talking about Eric's interest in cooking and selling the food you grow, a theme we explored last week, I asked him if he saw himself as part of a farmstand revival.
"You know, we're doing things that I had absolutely no idea we'd be doing three years ago," he told me. "I'm really excited by the evolution of the business model, and what goes along with it. One of my neighbors is a vegetable farmer and his farm doesn't look any different than it did 30 years ago. He does great, but changing with the market really excites me. I see the whole thing going in this direction, you see it at the Burlington Farmer's Market. People want what's cooked on the farm, they want to get out of restaurants and have alternate eating spaces."
Eric is attracted to Smorgasburg as a farmer because of the open format it offers him. Farmers' markets, as he sees them, are too constraining because of their overarching focus on raw goods; there's more flexibility for cooked food at Smorgasburg. Speculating on what the future might hold for Rockville, Eric told me that he'd like to have a wholesale operation for stores and restaurants in the Williamsburg area. As a Vermonter, Eric has been able to learn a lot about New York street food that he'd like to bring back with him, but he also the benefit of being a farmer among cooks.
"As one of our wholesale operations, we raise pigs, and the Laundhaus guys, just by being buddies with them I've learned a lot about pork," Eric said.
Asked if he felt like he could inspire other Vermont farmers to follow his example, he told me, "I don't know about that. We're just having a lot of fun, and making some money in the process. But when we do cook pork, and we do at the Burlington Farmer's Market, we add so much value to a pig, it's unbelievable—six to seven times the value if we sold it as meat. I think there's a really good model there. But, yeah, there's a lot of upstart especially up here in Vermont, and it's just kind of about paving your own path."
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