There was no room to swing a scythe, or even a trowel, at last week’s Modern Farmer magazine launch party in Chelsea. The second-floor demonstration kitchen and event space of Haven’s Kitchen was packed to the rafters with farm aficionados. And though no actual growers from the nearby Union Square Greenmarket were in evidence, the palpably giddy crowd did arrive draped in plenty of plaid and checked cotton.
Modern Farmer’s premiere issue features a barrel of non-Gucci mules, plus several cartloads of winsome cowherds. The editorial mix ranges from “barns we like, and those boots you want” to more serious topics like food security, animal welfare and soil advice. Graphically, it helps that farming seems inherently photogenic—and that those who work on farms seldom require gym memberships.
“There’s nothing more attractive than someone who can chuck bales of hay around,” said founding editor Ann Marie Gardner, a pixie-ish veteran of Monocle and the Times’s travel desk. “We can only be metrosexuals for so long. Plus, you also feel like there is a degree of safety with a farmer.”
“Women get dressed up to go to the farmer’s market because they think the farmers are hot,” Ms. Gardner continued. “The greenmarkets are like Desperate Housewives meets Northern Exposure.”
Ms. Gardner’s party pal Sidra Durst—who is developing a downtown Museum of Food and Drink and whose extended real estate clan owns McEnroe Organic Farm in Dutchess County—said some of her greenmarket-going friends have more than simply admired the agrarian lifestyle. “I have friends who have slept with farmers,” said Ms. Durst, “But they would kill me if I told you anything more.”
Spring is in the air, and with it an aphrodisiacal whiff of fresh ramps and manure-covered Muck boots. To hear some denizens of the city’s greenmarkets tell it, lovelorn urbanites are flocking to the farmstands with more on their minds than mizuna salad.
For a segment of the concrete jungle’s nature- and love-deprived populace, greenmarket farmers are doused more with pheromones than pesticides. One Hudson Valley grower boasted—anonymously, to avoid getting whacked with a rolling pin back home—of a flood of carnal opportunity.
“If I were single, my truck would be parked downtown every weekend after the market closes,” he said. “It wouldn’t be hard to go astray.”
And it’s not just young bucks fending off wanton does. At least one same-sex marriage has come about from a farmer/buyer romance, according to GrowNYC spokesperson Jeanne Hodesh. And a 6-foot-1, strapping-but-married dairy farmer—a grandfather—tells of a barrage of texts sent from an all-too-regular customer, a green-eyed beauty in her 40s who was eager to milk their exchanges for more.
We could really have some fun if you weren’t married, read the first sext. Then came: Are you going to be at USG this weekend? What are you doing after the market today? Do you need somewhere to stay in the city?
The Hudson Valley farmer did his best to politely deflect the customer’s interest as it escalated over a period of several months. Ultimately, he had to resort to sending an employee to work the greenmarket in his stead.
“It’s tricky when a customer takes a shine to you, because you’re trapped there.” he said. “Now I know how waitresses must feel when diners hit on them.” (Quizzed as to how this unwelcome stalker got his cell number, he hastened to explain: “It’s on my business card.”)
Stephanie Villani met her fisherman husband Alex at Grand Army Plaza in the early ’90s when she took a farmstand gig to supplement her meagre literary mag pay. The next concession over was Alex Villani’s Blue Moon Fish in Mattituck, Long Island, which they now co-manage.
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.