‘Tis the season: Shopping at the farmers’ market
Farmers’ markets are icons of the growing season, but they have become much more than places to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. There are opportunities nearby for shopping several days during the week.
The Wilton Farmers’ Market will reopen on Wednesdays, noon to 5, June 10, and continue through Oct. 28 at the Wilton Historical Society, 224 Danbury Road.
The weekly outdoor market features local produce, baked goods, organic dips and salads, jams and jellies, olive oil, pasta, pesto, mozzarella and fresh bread plus other homemade food items. But there will be something new as well — membership.
Up until this year, the market had been coordinated by the Chamber of Commerce, led by Janeen Leppert. A former Westport market assistant vendor, Elizabeth Beller, has stepped in to help balance the workload.
“As the market grows, it’s more than just a couple of hours a week. It’s like a job,” Beller told The Bulletin.
In addition to being an assistant vendor in Westport, Beller spent three years as a chair of the board of the Wakeman Town Farm. Those two experiences were valuable to her knowledge of farmers’ markets, as she said she “got a chance to learn how everything functions.”
Weeks ago, Beller held a planning session with roughly 15 vendors at Ambler Farm to discuss goals for the year. Among others, one of her plans is to start up a membership system. Members would receive a tote bag with a farmers’ market logo, and when they go around to shop would get a discount from each vendor.
She also plans to offer free tent space to a different nonprofit organization each week so it can promote its cause. One chef per week from nearby venues like Barcelona (Westport) or Bar Sugo (Norwalk) will come to host a food demonstration.
“It’s a small market. It doesn’t have room to grow too much,” said Beller. “We’re looking to increase product diversity and add more colors to the market. For example, I’ve even got somebody who’s selling natural skin care products trying to join the market.”
Above all, Beller’s ultimate goal is “to bring people around to the idea of buying their products locally, whenever possible. We want to strengthen relationships between restaurants and local farmers.”
She then said, “And also it is to educate people on what goes into making the products and understanding what a seasonal fruit or vegetable is.”
Since 1998, market manager and local resident Gail Brookover has been overseeing the operation. She got her first start with the farmers’ market in Weston; however, it is no longer active. She’s been involved with markets for 26 years and is actually a baker by trade.
Brookover’s company name is Blackbird Baked Goods, which supplies area stores with goods year round and is also present at the market. She makes pies and other treats, some of her favorites being mixed berry pie and apple dumplings.
Along with produce, the market features take-away foods such as salads, barbecued ribs, and other prepared dishes. Redding’s Pastabilities and Wavehill Breads of Norwalk also contribute to the market line-up. A new contributor this year will roast coffee beans.
Brookover’s initial motive for getting into the markets, she said, pertained to the farmers themselves.
“When I began it was to help support farmers. It’s a hard life, and this gives them an opportunity to grow and sell directly to the public without a middleman,” she said.
“I’d been doing farmers’ markets for years and I got to know a lot of farmers. It’s to help preserve farming in Connecticut. It’s not easy.”
In Brookover’s mind, there’s one particular aspect of the Georgetown market that makes it special.
“There are very loyal customers. It’s really unique in that we have such a strong rapport with our customers. This feels very much like a neighborhood thing even though we get visitors from the four towns around us.”
She has even formed some closer bonds with buyers, “We have people who have been customers for all 17 years. I know their kids, their dogs, where their kids went to college, and all of that.”
Brookover believes the market has great importance because it “plays a big role in educating people on healthy eating. We wouldn’t do business without our customers and our customers couldn’t find what they want without what we grow and produce.”
On Saturdays through Nov. 21, the New Canaan Farmers’ Market takes place at 27 Elm Street in the Old Center School parking lot. Whether rain or shine, the market opens at 10 and runs until 2.
More than 30 vendors contribute mainly produce; however, some bakeries also add savory and sweet items to the mix. Furthermore, the owners themselves are often present to interact with customers.
“We’ve been doing this since 1999. Every year there’s always something new, and every week we’re growing something new,” coordinator Alexis Gazy said recently.
The New Canaan market features award-winning vendors such as the Norwalk-based Michelle’s Pies.
“They use fresh pumpkins from Jones Family Farm in Shelton, which really shows how they support the local farmers,” said Gazy.
Additionally, Tasty Good Eats from Fairfield offers gluten-free cheese rolls and other products, further diversifying the market’s food options.
Another one of the vendors, MetroCrops of Bridgeport, accomplished a more unusual feat — successfully converting the second floor of a vacant factory into a growing facility for salad greens. The indoor farm is a 2,200-square-foot, climate-controlled space full of pink LED lights that mimic sunlight.
Gazy stressed the diligence in the farmers’ approach to nurturing their items. “They have soil tested for fertile content so they can amend it with organic and inorganic nutrients to maintain a healthy soil level.”
She said the purpose of the market is “to increase the New Canaan community’s access to Connecticut-grown commodities.”
The Ridgefield Farmers’ Market opens Thursday, June 4, from 2 to 6, on the grounds outside Lounsbury House on Main Street. Kicking off the event is a farm-to-table dinner at 6:30. (Information: 203-438-6962)
About a dozen vendors are expected each week — including Pastabilities — but there could be as many as 20 with specialty vendors visiting certain weeks. Vegetables, meat, eggs, pet treats, granola, cheese, bread and pies should be regulars.
The year-round market at Gossett Brothers on Route 35 in South Salem, N.Y., has moved outdoors and is open Saturdays from 9 to 1. Shoppers may buy locally grown and produced foods and handcrafts, visit the greenhouse, and see the antique store. More than 14 vendors are expected each week offering organic produce, grass-fed meats, local cheeses, and more.
Vendors this spring included Bee Guy Apiaries, Better Butter, Big Bang Coffee, Bongo Pasta, Bistro Du Soleil, Do-Re-Me Farms, Gaia’s Breath Farm, Goodnola, Honore’s Table, Johnnycake Mount. Beef, Pagano Fisheries, ST Ex Specialty Foods and Gossett Brothers Nursery.