Ms. Villani said that, even 20 years later, the chicken farmer who originally hired her “always has these women coming to see him. He has groupies. Not just one or two—a lot.”
“People are attracted to an ideal in their head,” added Ms. Villani. “They say, wow, you’re so rosy-cheeked! Your life must be so wonderful! They don’t see all the long days and smelly laundry.” She also cautioned that greenmarket vendors “are total gossips.” So careful out there, prowlers, lest you get a rep as an ag hag.
And, like everywhere else the world over, women in the service industry are apt to be targets of clumsy male overtures. On St. Patrick’s Day, a guy approached Michelle Armstrong while she was selling sourdough for Rock Hill Bakehouse—loudly telling a friend on his phone that “I’m in Union Square, looking at this really gorgeous girl.” Modestly, she attributed his inexpert flirtation to an excess of holiday spirit.
Megan Cress, a 30-something Manhattan business consultant and aspiring children’s book author, includes a 1-to-10-scale evaluation of date and pickup spots in each of her 700-and-counting Yelp reviews. She rates the Union Square Greenmarket an 8 for dates and 7 for pickups.
Ms. Cress told The Observer, “I wouldn’t really suggest hitting on the farmers,” since “most of them are married or in a relationship. You don’t exactly go live in the middle of nowhere without a companion. Try saying ‘hi’ to the person next to you in line. But if you think a farmer’s cute, don’t expect a date; volunteer to help on the farm.”
Elsewhere on Yelp, reviewer “Tracy” says her passion for the Greenmarket extends to the “cute farmer-ish boys workin’ the stands.” Monique posts that the vendors’ “charm” is “just another thing that keeps me coming back for more!” And Caro whispers: “There’s a really cute guy who sells apples from a farm upstate. He was quite inspirational in my decision-making.”
When Louis Malle traveled to the Midwest in 1979 to film his downbeat documentary God’s Country, he encountered bleak financial and personal prospects among heartland growers. Small farms were increasingly indebted to bankers and getting squeezed by industrial-scale competitors. Elderly farmers watched in dismay as their kids and grandkids drifted away from the family tradition.
Three decades later, agricultural cred has become a mainstream selling point. Giving viewers some gecko respite, Geico lately has saturated basic cable with bearded “mando” pickers straight outta Williamsburg, perched on a county-fair-style platform. In February, Ram Trucks’ multimillion-dollar Super Bowl ad buy featured Paul Harvey’s two-minute panegyric to agricultural virtue, including the stentorian refrain: So God made a farmer. Garnering wildly positive buzz during the game and a zillion web hits, Chrysler now plans to repurpose the ad as a coffee table book.
The allure of farmers is a natural progression from chef obsession, theorizes former Gourmet editor and überfoodie Ruth Reichl. “We fell in love with chefs, but so many of them went corporate,” she said. “Farmers still have their hands in the dirt, and they’re almost never going to get rich. It truly is a calling—that’s the attraction.”
Farmer Keith Gibson says his wedding band wards off most attempts to get more than yogurt from the family’s Grazin’ Angus Acres farmstand at Union Square. But one customer tried a novel approach.
“She begged me to sing ‘You Are So Beautiful’ to her in exchange for a rose,” said Mr. Gibson. “She just showed up and was like, ‘Please—please sing it to me!’ She was gorgeous, actually. I don’t know why she was looking for a compliment for the rose; she could have gotten one anyway. It was pretty ridiculous.”
All the fawning amid the fiddleheads has given rise to a tertiary market: single men checking out the single women flirting with the farmers. Hence Yelper Paskesz declares that Union Square “attracts the hottest, sexiest women in NYC … Summertime is fun time for straight guys here.”
—Additional reporting by Jordyn Taylor.