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With the early harvest season in full swing, green markets are fine-tuning their stance against Whole Foods and others

"Are your chickens free-roaming, and what do you feed them?" asks a woman holding a recyclable grocery bag, and eyeing an egg carton full of brown, spotted eggs.

The farmer in question launches into an animated discussion about his chickens. The Union Square farmer's market, which operates Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, is just across the street from the Whole Foods supermarket, which carries aisles of organic, farm-fresh products.

So what is the difference between buying your arugula at a place like Whole Foods - of Fresh Direct or any of the myriad other fresh-food options - or at a farmer's market? According to greenmarket farmers like Andrew Cote, who harvests honey from beehives all over the city, and Robert Allen, who co-owns Meredith's Bread, it's the personal touch of farmer's markets that allows them to stay competetive.

"We've tried just about everything, but the face-to-face sale is the best," said Allen. "The customer gets to see a real person and we get real feedback."

There are 50 Grow NYC greenmarkets dotted throughout the city, as well as a variety of other farmers markets. And despite an onslaught of competition in recent years, as consumers have become more aware of the quality and provenance of their food, most of them are holding their own.

"The same person making the food is the person selling you," said farmer Jeanne Hodesh. "It doesn't get any more direct than that."

Andrew's Honey, NYC

Union Square, Mondays and Wednesdays

New York has been all abuzz for Andrew's Honey for four generations of beekeepers. Andrew Cote tends his bees in a variety of places from atop the High Line Park in Chelsea to community gardens on the Upper East Side. As one of the most popular vendors at the farmer's market in Union Square, he has built a honey empire - selling the honey in jars labeled with their locations, as well as honeycombs and whipped honey - a creamy recipe that he invented himself.

"We have been around for over 100 years but we never got mighty," said Cote. "There is no one else who sells honey this localized. No one."

Cote is also a bee-activist, and uses his bee hives to help out underserved communities like East New York in his program, "Bees Without Borders." He also is constantly rescuing stray bee hives out of unwanted places like playgrounds, and "hiring them." The honey will always end up at his Union Square table.

Greener Pastures, Brooklyn, NY

Union Square Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays

Just call him the grassman. Stuart Borowsky owns Greener Pastures, an all-indoor small farm in the middle of Park Slope, Brooklyn, and has been there since 1994. He specializes in wheatgrass - a versatile sprout that can be used in healthy juices, inside salads, or fed to pets as a natural alternative to dog and cat food. His customers frequently walk up to his farm stand in Union Square and order a shot or double-shot of wheatgrass juice (which he handgrinds himself). He doesn't use any chemicals, and carefully controls the temperature of his crops.

Borowsky also sells buckwheat and sunflower greens, both of which are unusual but go great on top of salads, he said. He keeps his products in the back of an old yellow school bus.

"What you lose in consistency of availability at a grocery store, you gain in quality here at the market," said Borowsky.

Meredith's Bread, Kingston NY

Bowling Green Market Tuesdays and Thursdays

The Allen family has been baking since 1972, and the family business has been up and running since 1987. This year, they built a brand-new gluten free bakery, inspired by Allen's wife and daughter's celiac's disease.

Besides having a ton of bread varieties and pastries, from 7-grain to apple harvest bread, Allen said that they try to use local ingredients and carefully handpick their 20-or-so suppliers, something that not many supermarket bakers can boast. Come later this fall, look for their popular coconut custard pie.

Samascott Orchards, Kinderkhook, NY

Union Square Fridays

With over 70 varieties in their orchards, just call Samascott Orchards the apple experts - from honey crisp to the old McIntosh standby. Ron Samscott said his bakers make the orchard's apples into everything from apple pies to apple cakes and different varieties of cider.

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