By Laurie Mittelmann
Dan Madura expertly explained the benefits of various exotic plants to customers at his Sixth Ave. farm stand on Friday, but was unable to point a tourist in the direction of Washington Square Park — only two blocks away.
Madura recognized one man who was examining peaches, not by his outfit or voice, but by a conversation they had had about the natural sweetener stevia. This herb has been popularized in the last few years for being 300 times as sweet as sugar with zero calories, and Madura mentioned to the customer that it recently gave him energy to complete his farming.
In New York City, health-food stores are sprouting through the concrete, yet keeping a distance between people buying plants and people harvesting them. Madura and local farmers like him are closing that distance gap. Saying his mission in life is to feed people, he handed out pieces of fruit as free samples to pedestrians hungry to know if they would get their money’s worth buying his produce.
“Not too many people want to farm, but I think I’m doing a good thing,” he said. “I’m against big, conglomerate commercial farms running machines 24 hours a day and not thinking about the viability of products.”
Madura told a customer who was eyeballing a dozen brown eggs, “You are what you eat,” and that his chickens feed on exotic mushrooms because of their “micromedicinal values.” He added that mushrooms lower cholesterol and help the body steel itself against the onslaught of cancer and H.I.V./AIDS.
“My girlfriend says I’m nuts,” Madura said, of people’s responses to his unusual farming techniques. “And I say, ‘So what?’”
He lives and cultivates the earth with his brother 75 miles upstate in Orange County, to which he said only the Mississipi Delta and the rainforest could compare in soil fertility. As he spoke, he stroked rich, dark dirt from the end of greens. He explained that the dirt was sediment from a glacial lake that existed 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.
For two years, Madura’s stand appeared in the Greenmarket on Downing St., from which it was rooted out this year by the area’s lack of foot traffic. Now, he operates independently between Minetta and W. Third Sts. on the west side of Sixth Ave. on Tuesdays and Fridays, between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.