Food, May/Jun 2017, Shopping

We Love Our Farmers Markets

These seasonal stands require serious effort & year-round planning.

Fresh produce at the Lenox Farmers Market.
Fresh produce at the Lenox Farmers Market. Photo: Stephanie Zollshan

By Francesca Shanks

We live in a food mecca — incredible restaurants, farms abound, and farmers markets feature local products all year long.

And we in the UpCountry know that May marks the start of the spring and summer bounty of local foods at farmers markets — mounds of fresh and colorful vegetables, stacks of jars of jams and jellies on red-checked tablecloths, pounds of local bacon wait in mobile coolers to become breakfast.

Behind the wonderful cornucopia of a farmers market lies years of planning, dedicated volunteers and paid managers, and endless logistics: Where will each vendor be situated? How many vegetable producers can we accommodate this year? What do customers really want to see? What goes into a market to make it a great morning or afternoon for those who visit, reusable shopping bags in tow?
“We have folks working on the market year-round,” says Jess Vecchia, the executive director of the Alchemy Initiative, which runs the Downtown Pittsfield (Mass.) Farmers Market. A committee meets regularly and includes the farmers and food producers who attend; volunteers and hired teens help with physical setup and running the market.

The Brattleboro (Vt.) Area Farmers Market has been running since 1974, and includes more than 50 vendors.

“Our planning season starts in January,” says Market Manager Meghan Houlihan.

The Brattleboro market is member-run, and around 15 subcommittees focus on different areas of planning, from scheduling musicians to setting up a budget to revising the vendor application for the coming season.

Balance is a huge consideration — too much of one product is bad for customers as well as food producers.

“We really want to make sure we’re not too high in any certain category,” says Vecchia.
Pittsfield includes three meat vendors who sell different products; a recent meeting with farmers helped to iron out the number of stalls selling eggs. The way food is grown is an important consideration, too. Different customers prefer to buy organic eggs, or free-range eggs, or duck eggs, for instance.

“We’re looking at all of that as we process applications — it’s a tricky process,” Vecchia says.

Houlihan says the Brattleboro market’s balance is about 40 percent agricultural vendors, 40 percent prepared foods, and 20 percent crafts.

Since it’s primarily a food market, the committee prioritizes agricultural vendors over other applications. “Just going by that has kind of allowed everything to fall into place,” she says.

Erin Buckwalter, market development director at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), agrees.

“You need a variety of vendors. If you don’t have the products people are going to buy, they aren’t going to come,” she says.

A decent population base to support the market is also important — smaller markets in rural areas often don’t do as well as those situated in or near towns and cities.

NOFA-VT provides many resources for farmers/food producers and markets in Vermont, including workshops and conferences, farm-to-school programs, and community food security programs.

Vermont has always held its food producers in high regard.

“I think more people are aware of it here than in the rest of the country,” says Buckwalter. (The University of Vermont’s annual Vermonter Poll seems to confirm this: In 2012, a representative sample of Vermonters were asked if they had shopped at a farmers market in the past year, and 84 percent said they had.)

Ambience is also a major consideration. Places to sit and relax, ample parking, music and access to coffee are important on market days.

The Brattleboro market is extremely popular — between 2,000 and 3,000 people attend on busy summer weekends — so Houlihan and the rest of the market leadership have been working to keep the flow of customers moving.

That includes purchasing adjoining land for additional parking. Two years ago, grant funding helped the market purchase an old gas station site abutting the market site off Western Avenue (Route 9), renovate it, and make space for more customers to park.

“There are just challenges that we have owing to the popularity of the market, which is hardly a problem, but it’s interesting that we’re at that point,” Houlihan says.

“We try to make it a real community destination,” says Vecchia.

Market day at the Pittsfield (Mass.) Common might include cooking demos, activities for kids, days themed around health and wellness, zumba or yoga, and local musicians. Green space and available picnic blankets inspire people to spend the morning or afternoon there.

“For us, it’s the community element that really makes it a successful market — and, of course, having the balance of vendors.”

“You have to have community support for (the market),” says Houlihan. And you have to “have vendors who are really committed to the market. When you don’t have that, things fall apart. Those are the two things that make our market really stable.”

At the end of the day, this work is about creating space for people to meet and buy directly from local food producers.

“It’s different than going to a grocery store,” says Vecchia. “You’re meeting the people who grew, or raised, or made the food. You are supporting their livelihood, the farmlands here we have, and the local economy. … There’s something really special about that.”


Fresh Produce
A scene from the Lenox Farmers Market. Photo: Stephanie Zollshan

UpCountry Farmers Market Guide

WINDHAM COUNTY

Bellows Falls Farmers Market
Hetty Green Park, Bellows Falls, Vt.
June to September • Fridays, 4 to 7 p.m.
bffarmersmarket.com

Brattleboro Area Farmers Market
570 Western Ave., Brattleboro, Vt.
May 7 to Oct. 29 • Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
brattleborofarmersmarket.com

Brattleboro Area Farmers Market Flat Street
May 30 to Sept. 26 • Tuesdays, 4 to 7 p.m.
brattleborofarmersmarket.com

Putney Farmers Market
Carol Brown Way (across from Co-op), Putney, Vt.
May 28 to Oct. 8 • Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
putneyfarmersmarket.org

Townshend Farmers Market
West Townshend Country Store, Route 30 and Windham Hill Road, West Townshend, Vt.
May 27 to Oct. 14 • Fridays, 4 to 7 p.m.
Townshend Farmers Market on Facebook

West River Farmers Market
Intersection of Route 11 and Route 100, Londonderry, Vt.
May 27 to Oct. 7 • Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
westriverfarmersmarket.com

Whitingham Farmers Market
Whitingham Municipal Center, Whitingham, Vt.
June to September • Fridays, 4 to 7 p.m.
Facebook.com/WhitinghamFarmersMarket

BENNINGTON COUNTY

Bennington Farmers Market
Park behind Bennington Station
May to October • Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
benningtonfarmersmarket.org

Dorset Farmers Market
H.N. Williams General Store, Dorset, Vt.
May 14 to Oct. 7 • Sundays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
dorsetfarmersmarket.com

Manchester Farmers Market
Adams Park, Route 7A, Manchester, Vt.
May 26 to Oct. 6 • Thursdays, 3 to 6 p.m.
manchesterfarmers.org

BERKSHIRE COUNTY

Community Health Gt. Barrington Farmers Market
442 Stockbridge Road
June to September • Thursdays, 3 to 6 p.m.
berkshirefoodweb.org

Great Barrington Farmers Market
18 Church St., Great Barrington
May to October • Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
gbfarmersmarket.org

Lanesborough Farmers Market
Berkshire Mall parking lot
May to October • Wednesdays and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
farmfresh.org

Lee Farmers Market
Town green in front of Lee Congregational Church
May 21 to Oct. 8 • Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
leefarmersmarket.com

Lenox Farmers Market
Roche Reading Park, Main Street
May to October • Fridays, 1 to 5 p.m.
lenoxfarmersmarket.com

North Adams Farmers Market
Municipal parking lot on St. Anthony Drive between Marshall and Holden streets
May to October • Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
facebook.com/NorthAdamsFarmersMarket/

Otis Farmers Market
Papa’s Healthy Food and Fuel parking lot, 2000 East Otis Road
May to October • Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
farmersmarketotis.blogspot.com/

Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market
Pittsfield Common, First Street (Route 7)
May to October • Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
farmersmarketpittsfield.org

Sheffield Farmers Market
125 Main St., Route 7
May 26 to Oct. 6 • Fridays, 3 to 6:30 p.m.
sheffieldfarmersmarket.org

West Stockbridge Farmers Market
On the green on Harris Street in the village center
May 18 to Oct. 5 • Thursdays, 3 to 7 p.m.
weststockbridgefarmersmarket.org

Williamstown Farmers Market
At the base of Spring Street
May to October • Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
williamstownfarmersmarket.org

NEW YORK

Copake Hillsdale Farmers Market
Roeliff Jansen (Roe Jan) Park, 9140 Route 22
May 27 to Oct. 28 • Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
copakehillsdalefarmersmarket.com

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