Almost 16 years after 9/11, farmers' market returns to World Trade Center

With construction projects slowly wrapping up and amidst tight security, farmers are once again selling their produce and baked goods in the shadow of the World Trade Center. It’s been almost 16 years since they last operated on the site, but the memories of that morning are still fresh.

Fresh produce surrounded by tight security marks another sign the area is returning to normal

Located beside the Oculus and the World Trade Center transit hub, the new farmers' market returns to the site after 16 years under heavy security, both for patrons and the farmers, who undergo rigorous screening before setting up. (Steven D'Souza/CBC News)

When the second plane hit the tower on Sept. 11, 2001, Ron Samascott grabbed his cash, locked his truck and headed as far away as he could. 

At the time, the farmer thought he'd be able to come back later that day to pack up his stall at the regular Tuesday farmers' market that took place at the World Trade Center. Little did he know, it would be close to 16 years before he could return. 

Over the past decade, a combination of construction projects, lack of public space, and security measures made it impossible for the market to open.

In June, for the first time since the attacks, the farmers' market was back up and running. It will continue every Tuesday into November this year. Tables of bright red cherries, dark green zucchini, baked goods, lavender, even maple-flavoured cotton candy adorned the tables in the shadow of the new World Trade Center building.

Third-generation farmer Ron Samascott says after the first plane hit the tower on 9/11, he was still selling to customers, many who were unaware of how serious the situation was. It wasn't until the second plane hit 15 minutes later that he grabbed what he could and left the market. (Steven D'Souza/CBC News)

Samascott is one of five vendors who were there that Tuesday morning in 2001. Working away under the white tents, he could only hear, not see the first plane as it went into the tower. He recalls it sounded like being on a runway and hearing a jet speed up. 

"At that point I was assuming it was an accident, I really didn't know what to do, I stood there kind of frozen."

Samascott says people immediately started leaving the area but there was little shouting or rushing. Some people, he says, even stopped at his stall to pick up corn or apples to take home with them. When the second plane hit, 15 minutes later, that's when the shopping stopped and panic set in. 

"It feels good to be back. It was so long ago that it happened. It seems like a different world."

Tight security

Getting up early is part of the farmer's job on market day, but accessing the World Trade Center site means the alarm clock has to be set even earlier to allow for extra time to pass through security.

Winfield Cossaboon and the trucks from Kernan Farms usually arrive on site around 4:30 a.m. ET. He says they pass through a number of checkpoints and each truck is x-rayed before it's allowed through. The licence plates have to be pre-registered and all staff have to be pre-screened.

"It may take half an hour or 40 minutes just to get into this spot," Cossaboon said. "They're not letting any mish-mosh get in here, that's for sure."

Once unloaded, the trucks that are allowed on site have to be locked at all times. Bomb-sniffing dogs peruse the stalls alongside customers. Unlike at other city-run farmers' markets in New York, residents can't drop off bags of unused clothes, giving the Port Authority Police who patrol the area one less thing to worry about. 

A new vendor to the World Trade Center farmers' market, Dorcas Roehrs happily pours samples of her family's potato vodka for eager residents and tourists. She said she had no hesitation or fear about setting up shop on the site. (Steven D'Souza/CBC News)

For new vendors to the market like Dorcas Roehrs of 1857 Spirits, all the security measures are worth it.

"That's part of doing business down here," she said in between pouring samples of her family's homemade potato vodka for tourists. "If it's going to make everyone safer, I'm all for it. So big deal if you have to you get up an hour earlier."

Neighbourhood reborn

The return of the farmers' market is yet another sign of the area returning to a sense of normalcy. The World Trade Center Memorial opened in 2011. The museum and One World Trade Center opened a couple of years later. In 2016, a new shopping and transportation hub opened.

The neighbourhood around the site has blossomed. More than 60,000 people live in Lower Manhattan, more than three times as many as before the attack.

Roehrs says having the market back is one more sign of the area's rebirth.

"We're back, it's as simple as that, and it's not going to scare us, it's as simple as that. We're farmers, we're Americans," she said.

A shopper sorts through fresh cherries from an upstate New York farm on sale in the shadow of the new World Trade Center tower. For the first time since the attacks in 9/11, a farmers' market is back operating at the site. (Steven D'Souza/CBC News)

Cossaboon said he was welcomed back by office workers who remembered the old farmers' market. 

"The American people are going to bristle up and stand up to the challenge and make things better than they were before."

Ron Samascott says the market's return is another sign of New York City's resilience. 

"I think the people of New York can overcome pretty much anything. They keep on going, they adapt."

About the Author

Steven D'Souza

CBC News New York

Steven D'Souza is a Gemini-nominated journalist based in New York City. He has reported internationally from the papal conclave in Rome and the World Cup in Brazil, and he spent eight years in Toronto covering stories like the G20 protests and the Rob Ford crack video scandal.