Friday, July 31, 2009
Farmers Market enters its fifth year, and the vendors branch out
When Gale Constable of Lowell Street co-founded Carlisle’s Farmers Market four years ago, she anticipated a place where local vegetable growers could unload some produce on their neighbors and fellow townspeople.
Her first surprise was that the Farmers Market almost immediately became the community’s central gathering spot throughout the summer of 2005, rivaling even the Transfer Station as a place for friends and new acquaintances alike to chat, catch up, discuss local politics, complain about mosquitoes and celebrate the pleasures of summer. Four years later, what she finds even more noteworthy is how many of the vendors who first discovered their inner salespeople at Farmers Market have since branched out, expanding their cottage industries to include more offerings and in some cases even adding other towns’ Farmers Markets to their résumés.
“Our first year, we had about 25 to 30 vendors over the whole season,” Constable said. “Last year we had 50. You can find everything from locally grown vegetables and fruits to baked goods to jewelry to pesto to artwork to honey to cheese to eggs.” Vendors pay $60 for the season or $10 for one day; youths get a discounted vendor rate.
The O’Kelly family of Munroe Hill Road surveyed the Farmers Market scene two years ago and decided they wanted in, so mom Debbie and her two adult daughters, Jacquie and Catherine, set about developing products to sell. Jacquie decided to try her hand at granola, and thus the brand Golden Girl Granola was born. Debbie turned her attention to textiles: she creates aprons, place mats and table runners for the market, and 20-year-old Catherine makes bread and scones. This year Catherine is also the market’s music coordinator; live music has always proved popular, and so she has taken on the charge of ensuring that an amateur musician performs every single Saturday.
“I love the people at Farmers Market, and I love being connected to the community in this way,” Debbie O’Kelly commented recently. “When my kids were younger I was connected through the schools, first as a volunteer and later as a staff member. Now that the girls are in college, this gives me something to do and it gives us a way to spend time together as a family.” Not only that, the O’Kellys’ products are genuinely hot sellers, and they have expanded their customer base this year by selling at Farmers’ Markets in Acton, Chelmsford and Westford as well as Carlisle.
Carol Foster and her husband, John, of Nathan Lane are familiar to almost all Farmers Market regulars; since the first year, they’ve offered a beautiful array of homegrown vegetables, and John often plays his portable organ. According to Carol, participation in the market has galvanized the Fosters’ commitment to the locavore movement, and she strongly believes that Carlisle shoppers should see Farmers Market as a grocery destination and not just a summer weekend amusement. For that reason, the Fosters’ slogan is “Lettuce be your supermarket this summer,” and Foster explains that she does not like to hear people say they stopped by at Farmers Market on their way home from Stop & Shop or even Whole Foods. “I would like more people to plan their weekly menus around what is available at Farmers Market,” she said.
Accordingly, the Fosters are making a concentrated effort to meet customers’ needs. “We’re taking requests,” Carol said. “A lot of people seem to want arugula and Swiss chard. I think everyone is looking for more exotic things to put in their salads, as well as food that is extremely fresh. If I know ahead of time that someone wants a particular item, such as tomatilloes, I’ll put them aside.” The Fosters keep a link to their own website on the Farmers Market site and hope customers will use it to keep up with the harvest. They plan to post information about when corn or various kinds of lettuce are available. Like the O’Kellys, the Fosters will also sell their produce at Farmers’ Markets in neighboring towns this summer.
The Fosters are among several of the vendors who include charitable giving in their Farmers Market set-up. This year, Carol plans to have a bin out for collections for the Lowell Humane Society, where she volunteers. Another vendor with a focus on charity is 13-year-old Fiona Kinmoth of Page Brook Road. After learning about extreme poverty in sixth grade social studies, Kinmoth decided last year to donate her proceeds from the baked goods that she and a friend make to the Lowell Food Pantry and House of Hope. In past years they have also used their Farmers Market earnings to support animal preservation. “We used some of our money to help orangutans last year. This year, along with House of Hope, I think we might support leopards,” she said.
Farmers Market began its regular run right after Old Home Day, meeting at the Kimballs Ice Cream parking lot every Saturday through October from 8 a.m. to noon. For more information, go to www.CarlisleFarmersMarket.org. ∆
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito