For more than thirteen years, Dan and Nate King of Rexcroft Farms have been a staple of the park’s Wednesday greenmarket. Seventh generation farmers, their ancestors named the farm Rexcroft, meaning “King farm” in Dutch. In spring, pansies and other bedding plants signal the start of the growing season; followed by a cornucopia of fresh vegetables that continues until autumn’s gourds and pumpkins. Then in December, holiday garlands and wreaths bring winter cheer.
Whatever is in season, Rexcroft Farms is likely to have it, hand-picked and farm-fresh: a summer fest of vegetables, lettuces and greens – from bok choi to arugula–peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, cauliflowers, zucchini and zucchini flowers in abundance. If they don’t offer it, just ask—it might be added to next year’s crops.
“We consider requests from people, and if I’m going to grow it, I’ll grow a lot,” says Dan. Each item is grown based on market demand. If their stand at Hammarskjold Plaza is a measure, the demands of multi-cultural consumers run the gambit from kale to callaloo, “A wonderful summer spinach” says Dan, available from July to early September, and then again in late fall. Popular in the Caribbean, callaloo refers to the dish and its main ingredient, a leafy green vegetable, in this case, amaranth
Herbs also abound: the scent of basil, Tuscan, sweet, Thai, cinnamon and lemon varieties, wafts through the market, suggesting both traditional and exotic versions of pesto. More than 20 others herbs, including sage, dill, thyme and mint are available. Epazote, an herb popular in Mexican and Spanish dishes, possesses a minty lemon flavor. Papalo, also prevalent in Central and South American cooking, has a piquant flavor that hints of cilantro and citrus. It often accompanies fresh papaya and is included in fish dishes, salsas and guacamole, but with a stronger bouquet than true cilantro, chefs add only about a one-third as much.
As summer ripens, so do the tomatoes, harvested from Rexcroft’s 8,000 plants. Bushels of freshly picked corn make the plaza feel like country.
I peer at the purslane, a semi-succulent green used in salads. With small leaves and tender stems, purslane can also be sautéed, just don’t overcook it. One shopper, picking up a bunch, says she gently parboils it in salt water.
“It’s a weed to some people,” says Dan. “Purslane was growing in our cornfields, and it would get tangled in the equipment, but I noticed that some of the workers helping me pick, were eating it. They convinced me to try some; it was delicious.” These days, Rexcroft Farm cultivates purslane and routinely brings it to market.
The King family is committed to sustainable farming. “We follow organic pest control practices as much as possible. We use beneficial insects and OMRI (organic materials research institute) approved products,” Dan says.
The Kings’ ancestors began as small produce farmers on fertile land along the Hudson River in Greene County near Athens, New York. Their grandfather started the dairy operation back when New York State was a major dairy producer. Dan and Nate turned to vegetable farming after a doctor advised their father to take better care of his heart. “Dairy is the roughest agri-business there is… and I grew up milking cows so I knew I didn’t want to do that,” says Dan. He started growing hydroponic tomatoes after attending an informational session at SUNY-Delhi about NYC farmers’ markets. Today, the family farm consists of 300 acres with fields of vegetables, greenhouses, beef pastures, hay fields and woodlots.
CAPTION: Alfredo Martinez has worked at Rexcroft Farms for more than a decade. He, and his two sons, Mike and Joseph, set out from Greene County in upstate New York at 3 am to arrive at Dag Hammarskjold by 6 to set-up for the market on this Wednesday in late July.