The high season kicked off in Uptown with the opening of the Kingston Farmers’ Market at 9 am on May 28. The major role the market plays in promoting local agriculture, bringing people together, and establishing Kingston as a great city to visit or live in was underlined by the cutting of the ceremonial vine by Congressman Maurice Hinchey, Ulster County Clerk Nina Postupack, and a host of other officials that morning.
This year’s market features 33 vendors, with five newcomers: Super Food Citizen, a gluten-free bakery based in Tivoli; Twisted Foods, a pretzel maker out of New Paltz; Luigi’s Infused olive Oils, from Highland; Reginato’s, a restaurant based in Lake Katrine, which offers packaged foods to go; and South Pine Street Farm, Kingston’s own green quarter acre, which also supplies The Queen’s Galley.
“Right now we’re at capacity,” said Joe Fitzgerald, president of the Kingston Farmers’ Market Board, which presides over the nonprofit organization. “We try to offer enough variety to the customers. While there’s some competition among the vendors, we don’t need ten vendors with tomatoes, corn and zucchini. That’s what’s made this market viable: we’ve protected the vendors so they can make some money.”
The fee for a booth is $360 in advance (otherwise $400). Fitzgerald said last year the market attracted between 1,500 to 2,000 people a week. This season the Healthy Eating series will continue, with special cooking demonstrations by Lysa Ingalsbe, RN, and Noel Conklin focusing on berries, corn, tomatoes and other foods held the second and fourth Saturday of each month. Also returning is the Storytelling Series on every third Saturday, which is organized by City of Kingston Story Laureate Karen Pillsworth. Crafts on John Street, located around the corner, will be held the first and third Saturdays.
The Kingston Farmers’ Market also brings customers to neighboring stores and restaurants. One vendor, Uptown Twist, with a booth will be directing customers to the ice cream kiosk on Fair Street, opposite Le Canard Enchaine. Proprietor Sean Griffin and his wife, Julie, will be doing crepes and shaved ice, in addition to soft ice cream.
“A lot of our initial p.r. was devoted to making the public aware of the value of our local produce and local farms,” said Fitzgerald. “Now it’s in the public domain. It’s a narrative we don’t have to enforce so much anymore.” The Kingston Farmers’ Market is open from 9 am to 2 pm through November 19.
Working in tandem with the Farmers’ Market is the county-owned Matthewis Persen House, located a block away (it’s part of the famous crossroads that has a stone house on every corner). This is its fourth year, and the house is open, free of charge, through Labor Day. Once inside the dark, surprisingly large interior, which was built in five stages over three centuries, visitors can get a tour by one of the docents. The house offers a fascinating lesson in local history and building techniques and easily merits an hour. One can get a glimpse of a fragment of original 18th-century roof, as well as a reconstructed brick Dutch-style fireplace, a post hole from the original stockade, and exhibits of artifacts dug up from the site, including Native American arrowheads, fragments of Dutch clay pipes, and an early 19th-century shoe.
As it turns out, this is just the kind of attraction that brings well-heeled travelers to the area. In Ulster County in particular, cultural tourism is becoming a significant part of the economy, according to the Dyson Foundation’s Community Profiles report. The report notes that Ulster County earns more on tourism per capita than any other in the region–$2,320 per resident in 2009, compared to $1,490 in Dutchess and $975 in Orange. Historic sites and local culture are sited by 61 percent of all visitors surveyed as the main reason for their trip, according to the study.
That means the Persen House is a true economic asset, according to Jennifer Schwartz-Berky, deputy director at the Ulster County Planning Department. She noted that “the much untapped heritage tourism market…represents the highest income segment and largest portion of travelers, especially from New York City.” Schwartz-Berky cited The Cultural & Heritage Traveler Study, issued by Mandala Research in 2009, which found that heritage tourists represent 78 percent of all leisure travelers (a market of 118 million out of 152 million people). They spend an average of $994 per trip, versus $611 for other tourists. “There is great potential in cross-promoting heritage and agro-tourism/farmer’s markets,” she said.
The Persen House got a boost with the recent awarding of a Museum Assessment Program grant from the American Association of Museums, which will enable the County Clerk’s Office, which administers the site, to further develop the attraction as a Cultural Heritage Center. “It gives us a museum designation, which will allow us grant funding from other sources,” noted Ulster County Clerk Nina Postupack.
Postupack said the grant will include a peer review, in which a museum expert will visit the site later in the summer. “She’ll meet with us to discuss the museum evolution and challenges and help us manage our expectations and how we can market ourselves in the community,” said Postupack.
The Persen House will also continue to collaborate with numerous local historical societies this summer, as it did last year. Each participating organization is based at the Persen House for a Saturday, hosting various activities open to the public. Last year there were ten partner organizations, most memorably the British Brigade/16th Queen’s Light Dragoons, whose red-coated re-enactors, glittering swords hanging at their sides, were a handsome addition to the stone house—and provided a premonition of Uptown’s Williamsburg-like potential. -Lynn Woods