Fresh and local produce isn’t the only reason to check out your local farmers markets. More and more, markets are becoming a shopping experience with children’s activities, live music and vendors with all sorts of products from gluten-free snacks to cheese, jams and baked bread.
“You feel so good when you leave a farmers market. People have smiles on their faces,” said Joan O’Connor, a vendor at the Concord farmers market and market manager for the Tilton summer and winter farmers markets.
Some shoppers, like Sarah Pratt of Concord, visit the farmers market on a whim. Pratt paid a visit to a recent Saturday farmers market in Concord after a run. Since she was in the area, she thought she’d swing by and pick up a pint of strawberries, she said.
Other shoppers, like state Sen. Sylvia Larsen (who was shopping that same Saturday), visit the market as much as possible, partly for the shopping and partly for the community aspect.
“I come as much as I can. I love it. Even the winter market. There’s some really wonderful things,” Larsen said. “[I] generally browse: see what’s available, see what’s growing right now, see what’s fresh … and see friends and sample food. It’s great. ... The fact that you can buy fresh-cut flowers or you can smell bath herbs — I was just sniffing the lavender there — it’s just really a special treat and a nice way to start your Saturday morning.”
Larsen has seen the market evolve since its beginnings, as she’s one of the people who helped establish the weekly farmers market in the first place. It used to be in the parking lot at the police station. Now, Capitol Street is closed to traffic every Saturday morning and is packed with vendor tents and shoppers up and down the street next to the Statehouse.
Another large and bustling market is the Bedford farmers market, where market manager Cherilyn Bukofske was inspired by the excitement of outdoor vendors and street performers at Boston’s Faneuil Hall marketplace. Now in its second year in the parking lot of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, the Bedford market is packed to its 50-vendor capacity with baked goods, cheese, tea, soaps, herbs, honey, the Sander’s fish truck and, of course, seasonal produce.
“It’s not like Faneuil Hall, but it’s a smaller, condensed version in Bedford,” Bukofske said. “I want to make it when people come … they’re excited and they’re captivated.”
That includes special guests each week, like Disney princesses, Captain Jack Sparrow, local authors and theater groups as well as musicians. After polling local moms about what they’d like to see at the market, Bukofske reserved space in the market for a Sit n’ Sip area this summer, so kids can hang out with character princesses, take a painting class or color in the shade.
“It just makes it more convenient,” she said.
Another trend among markets is vendors with prepared foods in addition to the raw local produce. There are typically vendors with baked goods at most markets, and other food vendors include a meatball vendor at the Bedford market, baked beans in Concord, and even a Mexican food truck at the Tilton farmers market, among others. On top of that, most vendors encourage sampling.
“We have the people that have the snacky food items like the baked goods, and then we have the things you can grab for dinner,” Bukofske said.
“Most of my vendors are doing sampling again,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor and Bukofske recommend getting to know your vendors, trying samples and learning something new. They agreed that farmers markets are ultimately an educational experience for all ages.
“I think that’s so important,” Bukofske said. “It’s a community to support community.”
“Some people have never been to a farmers market,” O’Connor said. “Just try it. Try it once and hopefully you’ll get hooked. … Try your little town [market] and try the city markets.”
As seen in the July 24, 2014 issue of the Hippo.