by Kathleen Rooney
Autumn is one of the most abundant, diverse and delicious seasons in the Greater Niagara USA region of New York state. It's also the perfect time to plan a day trip, visiting local farms and markets for regional produce, meats and baked goods to make holiday meals truly special.
The five counties that make up the Greater Niagara Region offer unique agricultural features stretching from the potato and onion fields of Genesee County to the apples and pear orchards of Orleans; Niagara County's blossoming wine trail, which extends all the way from the shores of Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment and now includes Monroe County; the magnificent rolling hills of Wyoming County produce some of the tastiest maple products in the USA; and Erie County's farm stands from Clarence to East Aurora boast an array of seasonal vegetables, herbs, flowers and delicious cider.
The farm-to-table philosophy, which is always in season in the GNR, puts an emphasis on regional and seasonal products. By using locally sourced meats, vegetables and fruits, consumers experience fresher flavors while helping to ensure the sustainability of local agriculture. There are multiple reasons, environmental to nutritional, that make locally grown food a better option. And by making a day trip out of shopping for holiday meals, you'll also discover towns and villages peppered with antique shops, bookstores and boutiques, as well as locally owned eateries that offer delicious alternatives to the fast food normally associated with travel along the highway.
The flavor of free-range turkey will delight Thanksgiving guests, especially when seasoned with dried local herbs and a range of glazes bursting with flavor from this past summer's outstanding fruit. Several farms throughout the region offer fresh turkeys, but they sell quickly and orders should be placed as soon as possible to ensure availability (try Blackman Homestead Farm in Lockport at 716-434-7116 or www.blackmanhomesteadfarm.com to order a turkey, or HLW Acres in Wyoming County - give a call first at 585-591-0795). Blackman also offers a wide assortment of jams, jellies, glazes and herbs, as does Singer Farm Naturals on Route 18 in Appleton (http://singerfarmnaturals.com, or 716-778-7077).
For those who want to try something other than turkey as an entrée this Thanksgiving, or looking ahead to holiday parties, local options include grass-fed Angus beef (Librock Farms; 716-772-7723 or www.librockbeef.com), fresh chicken (Plato Dale Farm; 716-913-1351 or www.platodalefarm.org), and pork (try T-Meadow Farm; 716-434-7206 or www.heritagebreedsusa.com). Fall is a busy time on the local farms - calling or checking the farms' websites or Facebook pages before heading out to visit is recommended.
Seasonal produce is abundant now, too, at farmers' markets and farm stands. Squashes add beautiful color and flavor to any meal, and the cooler weather ushers in a second harvest of many hardy greens like Swiss chard, kales, collards and spinach. Cabbages and their smaller cousins, Brussels sprouts, are plentiful, as are root crops from carrots and potatoes to turnips, parsnips, onions, shallots, garlic and beets.
Farmers' markets throughout the region have great selections now, too - in Erie County, the Saturday morning market at Elmwood-Bidwell (www.elmwoodmarket.org) in Buffalo offers a terrific range of local items from produce and flowers to meats, cheeses and craft beer by Community Beer Works, while the Holland Farmers' Market (www.hollandfarmersmarket.blogspot.com) offers farm-fresh eggs, produce, maple syrup - even soap made with locally sourced natural ingredients. The Springville Market at Gentner's Auction opens at dawn on Wednesdays year-round. While you're there, be sure to catch the antique and livestock auctions. And in Niagara County, visit the North Tonawanda Farmers' Market on Payne Avenue - it's one of the longest-running markets in the area (open year-round Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.).
The popular Winter Market at Buffalo's Horsefeathers has returned for its second full season and is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., occupying portions of the first floor and lower level of the Horsefeathers Market & Residences, located at 346 Connecticut St. Vendors tentatively scheduled to participate in the market include Alpine Made, Arrowhead Spring Vineyards, Biscotti for Everybotti, Buffalo Cookie Co., Castle Farms, Fetch Dog Treats, Green Heron Growers, JJ's Jams, Simply Sweet, T-Meadow Farm, BV Gourmet Mushrooms, Plato Dale Farm, Camies Candies, Native Offerings and more. There will also be local musical entertainment each week during the market.
Early autumn's tree fruits, like apples and pears, as well as pie pumpkins, bake up into easy and delicious desserts. Try Rush's Farm Market (585-682-3378) and Watt Farms Country Market for apples (800-274-5897 or www.wattfarms.com) in Albion; Partyka Farms in Kendall (585-659-9131 or www.partykafarms.com); and Hurd Orchard in Holley for apples, fall vegetables, baked goods and jams (585-638-8838). If you work up an appetite exploring the countryside, try a light lunch at the Shirt Factory Café in Medina, the Orchard Tea Room at Murphy Orchards in Burt (716-778-7926 or www.murphyorchards.com) or at Becker Farms in Gasport (www.beckerfarms.com or 716-772-2211), where you'll find a farm market, a bakery, a vineyard, and a brewery serving light lunches.
The right wine completes any meal - and vineyards along the Niagara Wine Trail make an outstanding daytrip any time of the year (http://niagarawinetrail.org).
For a complete listing of all there is to do in Greater Niagara USA, visit www.greaterniagara.com or call 1-800-622-2686.