Friday, April 22, 2005
Community support grows for a farmers market in Carlisle
Twenty people with an interest in actively encouraging a modest revival of Carlisle's rural heritage attended the Conservation Commission's 7:30 a.m. coffee hour on April 12. The topics announced for discussion were formation of a town Agricultural Commission and introduction of a weekly farmers market that would feature farm-related products during the summer growing season.
Jeff Toscano led off with a brief description of the make-up and objectives of town agricultural commissions and distributed a farmer's guide to the process based on materials developed by statewide public and private agricultural organizations. The commissioners are appointed by elected town officials following Town Meeting approval. They are chosen from among farmers and other community leaders committed to the preservation of agricultural lands and businesses. Fourteen towns have already organized commissions and 30 more, including Sudbury, Weston and Westford are considering action at their Spring Town Meetings.
The first question asked at Tuesday's coffee hour was, "What is the definition of a farm?" In his reply Toscano emphasized that the term is applied not only to obvious agricultural businesses such as dairies, nurseries, orchards or animal husbandry, but also to recreational agriculture like beekeeping, community gardens, cheese-making, fly-tying, woodlot management, etc. That point was seconded by John Lee, manager of Alandale Farm in Boston, who termed it "an opportunity to build a sense of community in the agricultural sector, while recognizing both large and small operations as town resources."
Selectman candidate John Williams inquired as to the extent of state backing for the movement, giving Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard an opportunity to report on a meeting in Concord where Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas Gillespie voiced strong support for the commission concept. Lee added that the state has put considerable time and effort, not money, behind it, but there has been an indication that if their budget allows, the department might consider throwing a little money into it. Former Carlisle Conservation Foundation President Art Milliken suggested that private land trusts, environmental organizations and hunting and fishing clubs would like to work with such commissions.
On the organizational front Toscano indicated that a local commission would start by assessing the community's needs and developing their own charter or goals. It would serve as a resource for both farmers and the town, acting as mediator between agricultural operations and abutting homeowners. It would work with the Board of Health, Conservation Commission and schools to educate citizens on matters that affect the community, or serve as an advocacy group in matters such as the impact of parking fees at Great Brook Farm State Park on farmer Mark Duffy's ice cream stand.
Listed among the projects sponsored by some of the 38 or more towns that have either officially adopted the program or are submitting a Warrant Article to that effect at their Town Meetings is sponsorship of a farmers market. This information provided a convenient segue for a proposal from Lowell Street photographer Gale Constable that residents interested in growing or otherwise producing marketable items consider setting up a market that would operate a few hours once a week.
This concept, which has been gaining in popularity nationwide would provide an outlet not only for those who earn their living from farming but also for local mini-farms that presently display their summer bounty at roadside tables in their neighborhoods. "We need a central site for sale of surplus zucchini, tomatoes, rhubarb or preserves that presently languish in obscurity on neighborhood cul-de-sacs," said Constable.
The photographer became eloquent in describing the pleasures to be found in a Saturday morning community gathering at a location more inspiring than the transfer station. "It provides a wonderful opportunity to honor the earth while giving children an appreciation of where and how their food is produced," she said. Constable herself plants some items such as peanuts and cotton in her Foss Farm patch, just to educate local youngsters about the source of items they normally see only on the selves of supermarkets or in clothing stores. Further illustrating the point, Toscano repeated a story told by a farmer friend who hung baby pumpkins on a tree for decoration, only to overhear a parent pointing them out to her progeny with the commentary, "Now you know where pumpkins come from." Other suggested types of activities to attract both youngsters and adults might be demonstrations of proper techniques for pruning or composting.
Bill Hamilton, who specializes in growing old-country Italian produce in his Maple Street garden, suggested that in late spring amateur horticulturists might bring in special seeds or prized plants for others to try — whatever possesses a genuine home-produced aura. In the fall, heirloom apples and tomatoes would certainly be appreciated.
Constable volunteered to do the groundwork, such as contacting farmers, getting okays from town boards including the Board of Health and ConsCom, and exploring possible locations. Suggestions to date include Foss Farm, a town center site, Kimball's, the DPW facility, etc. Hamilton offered to create an information exchange on his existing website. The enthusiasts present agreed on the importance of keeping the project simple, making participants responsible for setting up their own displays, purveying their offerings, and cleaning up afterwards.
Both Toscano and Constable made a second appearance at ConsCom's April 14 meeting. Toscano sought and received a "sense of the commission" that welcomed the concept of an agricultural commission and to that end supported his efforts. Although Constable did not request any formal action, she was encouraged to explore the market idea further and keep the commission informed.
© 2005 The