A decade of food and entrepreneurship – the Carlisle Farmers Market turns ten

by Karina Coombs

 

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Market manager Jessica Montague and her father Clovis Haynes display their garden’s bounty.
(Photo by Karina Coombs)

When the Carlisle Farmers Market opened in 2005, it provided the town with fresh produce, baked goods, art and crafts, entertainment and a much-needed communal space that did not also involve sorting recyclables. It also provided adults and children from Carlisle and surrounding communities with an opportunity to try their hand at business. Ten years later this symbiotic relationship is still on full display in the Kimball Farm parking lot.

 

An event with a purpose

 

“It’s like an event with a purpose,” says Jessica Montague of the Farmers Market. In addition to families buying produce as part of their weekly food shopping, they also visit with friends and neighbors, enjoy the crafts and get an ice cream. For the past three years Montague has been the market manager. She is in charge of advertising, recruits a variety of vendors and books local musicians for weekly live music. She also helps sell fruits and vegetables grown by her dad, Clovis Haynes of Haynes Farm, something they have been doing together since the Farmers Market started.

 

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Soon-to-be fifth grader Isabella Synnestvedt and her mother Carren Panico. Isabella makes and sells stress balls, rainbow loom bracelets and Lego capes. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

Montague, a special education teacher at Hanscom Air Force base, also organizes monthly festivals such as July’s third annual Blueberry Festival. For that event and others like it, she will find face painters, put lists of books together for kids and enlist librarians from Gleason Public Library for story time. “It’s just fun,” says Montague. “[But] we [also] try to educate people when we’re doing it.” 

 

Popularity of Farmers Markets 

 

The United States Department of Agriculture has been tracking Farmers Markets since 1994 and the 2014 Farmers Market Directory shows 8,268 markets within the US and a 76% increase since 2008. Massachusetts is recognized as one of ten states that saw the biggest increases. With so many new markets, Montague acknowledges that there may be a minor impact on sales within Carlisle. But she does not see this as a negative, believing it is ultimately good for everyone. 

 

“People are really learning about food and where things come from,” she explains. “[They] really eat healthy and cook better for themselves.” With face-to-face access to local farmers and people who cook and prepare food, Montague sees her customers being exposed to produce they may not be familiar with. They leave with new recipes to try out at home and return, often to provide a report. “We have a connection to [our customers],” she says. 

 

Small family farms and backyard farmers

 

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Left to right, Lydia Karle, Amelia Karle and Eden Mpourles. Karle and Mpourles are the co-founders of Carlisle’s Mutt Munchies and Lydia is their newest employee. The girls just took an order for 40 bags of treats from two stores in Maine. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

The popularity of Farmers Markets has not affected Montague’s ability to find vendors, with 30 currently registered. A summer vendor fee is $75 for adults and $30 for children with weekly fees at $15 and $5 respectively. “We always have people coming through [and] we always have vendors,” she says. While not all vendors sell every week during the summer, on any given Saturday there are between 17 and 20 booths with a variety of wares. “Everybody has a unique product that they bring with them, even in produce.” 

 

That produce is provided by a combination of small family farms in surrounding communities and backyard farmers within Carlisle. And one of these farmers is Montague’s father. She explains that Haynes Farm got its start in the family’s backyard on Acton Street before moving to a plot at Foss Farm. “…My father got the itch and said, ‘Let’s do more,” says Montague. Haynes began renting a large space at Chelmsford’s Community Garden, Sunny Meadows Farm, and now produces a large variety of fruits and vegetables. “[Because of the Farmers Market] my dad can have his lifelong dream to go back to his roots from Barbados and farm,” she says. “He likes it and it’s good for him.” 

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Thirteen-year-old Kyle Bonenfant sells his family produce to raise money for the House of Hope in Lowell.
(Photo by Karina Coombs)

 

While the Farmers Market has had vendors certified in organic farming in the past, none of the current vendors sells organic produce. Montague attributes this to the difficulty in the certification process. But despite their lack of certification, she explains that many of the vendors work diligently to keep the food as natural as possible.

 

Child vendors

 

Managing the market has also allowed Montague the unique opportunity to work with a number of child entrepreneurs. The Carlisle Farmers Market is the only local market she knows of that allows  child vendors. “It’s really cool to see the talent that the kids have,” she says. 

 

Stress balls

 

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Isabella Synnestvedt’s stress balls. Each ball is filled with a
variety of ingredients, creating very different textures when
squeezed. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

While just a fifth grader, Carlisle’s Isabella Synnestvedt is a veteran of the Farmers Market, having had a booth for four years with her mother, Carren Panico. Panico explains they started off by making gluten-free treats, but when the Board of Health (BOH) began to require residential kitchen permits they stopped. Montague explains that anything that is perishable or produced by people falls under the BOH and requires a permit.

Instead, Synnestvedt now sells a number of crafts she designs and makes including Rainbow Loom rubber bracelets of varying complexity, note cards and handmade stress balls—an idea she got after receiving one at a birthday party and experimenting with textures made from various ingredients inside of balloons. Her newest addition is a line of capes for Lego figures, a display featured prominently on her table.

Mutt Munchies

 

“We love animals [and] were looking for something to do,” explains 12-year-old Amelia Karle of Carlisle of her dog treat business, Mutt Munchies. Along with her co-founder, 12-year-old Eden Mpourles, the girls created a line of dog treats with seven distinct flavors after becoming aware of some of the ingredients in commercial dog treats. They have only attended the market a few times.

The girls initially started out with cupcake-sized treats, but after some “trial and error” they retooled the recipes and size drastically. With two employees (who each get 10% of the sales while the co-founders split the remaining 80%), the group recently took an order for 40 bags of treats from two small stores in Maine.

Wares for a cause

A number of booths at the Farmers Market also incorporate charity into their sales, another long-standing tradition. Thirteen-year-old Kyle Bonenfant of Carlisle sells produce grown by his family. He also sells chicken eggs. Bonenfant explains that his family had a weekend farm stand before he moved to the Farmers Market this year. In keeping with family tradition, the proceeds from all sales go to the House of Hope family shelter in Lowell (http://www.hopelowell.org).

Schedules and more information

The Carlisle Farmers Market runs every Saturday 8 a.m.to noon from the end of June until mid-October in the Kimball Farm parking lot. The Corn and Tomato Festival will be held on August 23. For more information on additional festivals and weekly musicians see the Farmers Market Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/pages/Carlisle-Farmers-Market/149947725026311.

Montague is also looking for a manager for the Winter Market, typically held in Union Hall. For more information please see the Farmers Market website: http://www.carlislefarmersmarket.org.    ∆