A look at the socially distant summer market scene
You can still get your leafy greens, grass-fed meats and fresh poultry at local farmers markets this summer, but there’s no denying that the fresh-air market vibe won’t be the same, with regulations in place to promote social distancing and the cancellation of vendor demonstrations, tastings and live music.
“It has really been a shift from hanging out and socializing at the market … to just coming in and purchasing or picking up the product,” said Julie Dewdney, market manager of the Canterbury Community Farmers Market, which began on June 3.
Farmers markets have been considered essential businesses from the beginning, according to Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of agricultural development for the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food. The department has encouraged markets to stay open, both to maintain cash flow for the vendors and to provide food sources for customers. Despite that, many summer markets started late and some have canceled altogether.
Early season markets
One of the only markets in the Granite State that has remained uninterrupted during the pandemic is in Salem. The year-round market, which normally operates indoors from November through about April or May, moved outside several weeks earlier than planned, on March 15, despite temperatures barely above freezing.
“I think on that first day [we went outside] it was 37 degrees out,” board president Bonnie Wright said, “but people wanted to come and vendors wanted to come, so we kept the market going. … We’ve had to adapt a great deal and make a lot of changes as the virus situation has evolved.”
After being in the parking lot of the Mary A. Fisk Elementary School for a few weeks, the Salem Farmers Market moved back to its normal summer location at Salem Marketplace a few miles away on April 5. Since then the market has been operating at limited hours each week, on Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon only — it’s normally from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., according to Wright.
Moving the market outdoors in a paved parking lot, Wright said, has allowed its board members to further space out each vendor and control the flow of customers. Only 100 people are allowed into the market at a time to prevent long lines from forming. Table fees are, for the time being, waived for all vendors in an effort to help supplement the income some have lost.
“It definitely doesn’t have that farmers market feel that people are used to,” Wright said, “but we are seeing quite a bit of people … and occasionally people have to wait to get in.”
In Concord, after the cancellation of its winter market in Eagle Square on March 17 with more than a month left to go, growing uncertainty loomed over whether the city’s summer market on Capitol Street could go on. The market did miss its targeted opening date of May 2 by one week, resuming operations on May 9 with just a fraction of its vendors, but president Wayne Hall said it has exceeded his expectations since then.
“It’s been tremendous,” said Hall, who owns Rockey Ole Farm in Concord. “It’s been very, very steady, and people have been very respectful of the things we’ve been putting in place. … We are also constantly adding more new vendors as we go along.”
Hall said there is still an abundance of leafy greens available at the market, such as lettuce, kale, and Swiss chard. Next up for produce will be strawberries, coming from Apple Hill Farm, followed by blueberries later in July. Summer squash, tomatoes and cucumbers are all expected to be available soon too.
A second summer market has also debuted in Concord this year. For the first time, Cole Gardens is hosting an outdoor market in its parking lot following the conclusion of its indoor winter market in April, market manager Jane Iarussi said.
The Contoocook Farmers Market, according to manager Karin Cohen, began its summer season a couple of weeks earlier than planned, on May 23. Another year-round market, Contoocook had suspended operations indoors at Maple Street Elementary School on March 14.
“We were slated to reopen outdoors on June 6, but there were a lot of community requests for us to open [earlier], and a lot of our farmers also felt like they were ready to go,” Cohen said.
Now back at its normal summer location next to the Contoocook Railroad Museum, the market is encouraging just one member per household to visit if possible, and to leave all children and pets home. Reusable and single-use plastic bags are allowed, as long as you don’t place them on any table surfaces. Product sampling, vendor demonstrations, live music and arts and crafts vendors have all been temporarily suspended until further notice.
“We’re really trying to encourage people not to linger, just because we are such a small market,” Cohen said. “Unfortunately, it’s not the social market that we’re used to, but I think everyone so far has been happy to still be able to come out and support our local farmers.”
Jim Ramanek of Warner River Produce in Webster is a featured vendor at the Contoocook, Cole Gardens and Canterbury markets — he’ll also be joining the Franklin market on Tuesdays when it gets underway on June 23, and has started an online ordering system via harvesttomarket.com.
“We still have a few winter vegetables and we’re doing lots of mixed lettuce, radishes and baby turnips,” Ramanek said. “Spinach is on the decline because it’s just been too hot for it.”
Work Song Farm in Hopkinton, another vendor at this year’s Contoocook market, has certified organic strawberries available first-come, first-serve. According to co-owner Dan Kilrain, the farm will have them for at least the next two to three weeks.
June and beyond
The month of June has brought with it several more summer markets in the state kicking off their seasons under new guidelines. The Canterbury Community Farmers Market was able to begin on schedule, Dewdney said, after its association spent several weeks discussing what the safest practices would be for vendors and customers.
“It was really important to us that we opened up that access to good products,” she said, “so we came up with a whole set of guidelines, with help from the UNH Cooperative Extension and the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets.”
In addition to encouraging masks, all handling of products is done by the vendors until after purchases are made. The Canterbury market has also eliminated all special activities it would normally have throughout the season, and is encouraging people to limit attendance to one visitor per household.
“Our first week was really successful,” Dewdney said of the June 3 market. “We didn’t have to control the crowd level. We had one entry point and we kind of just had a steady stream.”
The Canterbury market averages about 20 vendors — and even though Dewdney said a few vendors have dropped out, the Association has been receiving interest from newcomers.
One of the returning vendors, Kathy Doherty of Sanborn Meadow Farm in Canterbury, said the market’s opening day went well and that many customers even thanked her for being there. Doherty focuses primarily on herbs and leafy greens.
“Early in the season, it’s a lot of radishes, arugula and mixed Asian greens. That’s what I brought the first week, and I’ll diversify a bit with lettuce, broccoli, rhubarb and some varieties of kale,” Doherty said. “The spring was very cold and it seemed to delay everything … but they’re starting to catch up now. I think tomatoes will be coming a bit later than usual.”
The New Boston Farmers Market, which opened for the season on June 6, has roped off access from outside the town common, only allowing one-way entrances and exits for customers. Market co-manager Allison Vermette said the response to the changes has been positive so far.
“Most of the people who have shown up have been very thankful that we’ve been open. I think there’s been a very big push to have more local products available during this whole pandemic,” Vermette said. “It’s normally a very community-based market, so this year we do look a lot different. … We usually have different community guests come in, but that’s unfortunately been cut out for the foreseeable future. We’re also not doing our children’s market this year.”
In Milford the pandemic caused the cancellation of the town’s final two indoor winter market dates on March 14 and March 28. But on June 13 the market was able to start its summer season under new guidelines at 300 Elm St. across from the New Hampshire Antique Co-op.
“I’ve done a lot of research on how to open safely,” market manager Adrienne Colsia said. “Last year I used probably only half the parking lot, but now we’re using the whole perimeter of the lot to space everybody out. … We have one entrance, and we’re encouraging people to just grab and go and not hang around if they can. Customers are allowed to bring reusable bags.”
Colsia, who also co-owns Paradise Farm in Lyndeborough with her husband Wayne, said they will have strawberries available at the market. Other items you can expect at the market include meats like grass-fed beef, pork and lamb, poultry, fresh fish, cheeses, and leafy greens like kale, arugula and Swiss chard.
The Bedford Farmers Market, scheduled to begin on June 16, is in a new spot this year — the parking lot of the Harvest Market on Route 101 in Bedford, which closed its doors about a month ago, according to market manager Lauren Ritz. The market had previously been in the parking lot of St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church on Meetinghouse Road.
“The Diocese of Manchester … wasn’t comfortable with having us in the parking lot with the state that New Hampshire was at, at the time the decision was made,” said Ritz, who also co-owns Hoof and Feather Farm in Amherst, one of this year’s vendors. “So we actually reached out on the Bedford’s town Facebook page, and the Harvest Market offered us their parking lot.”
The market will feature 30 vendors throughout the season, some of which will rotate depending on the product availability of each. Hoof and Feather Farm is the meat vendor, featuring chicken, beef and pork, while other vendors are selling various fruits and vegetables, cheeses, honey, maple syrup and personal care products.
Newcomers include Jennifer Lee’s Bakery out of Worcester, Mass., which makes gluten-free and dairy-free baked goods; and the Bedford Sewing Battalion, which will have a table handing out free masks and accepting fabric and elastic donations. Like many of the state’s other markets, Ritz said Bedford had to cancel all planned live entertainment and demonstrations.
Merrimack’s farmers market is also expected to begin this week. According to market manager and town agricultural commission chair Bob McCabe, the Merrimack Town Council on June 11 approved the market to begin on June 17, one week after its proposed start date. That market is expected to continue through mid-October, in the parking lot of Vault Motor Storage on Daniel Webster Highway.
More markets to come
A few more summer markets in the state are expected to get going as the month winds down.
In Nashua, for example, the market will resume on June 21, continuing every Sunday through the middle of October. Due to several lane closures on either side of Main Street to accommodate outdoor dining space for restaurants, this year’s market has moved from its normal spot between Temple and Pearl streets down to the area in front of City Hall Plaza.
“We’ll be around City Hall on the Main Street side, as well as in the shaded area of the Nashua Heritage Rail Trail and [in] the surface parking lot to the rear of the building,” Great American Downtown executive director Paul Shea said. “It’s a larger area than where we normally operate … so customers will have a lot of space to move through the market while distancing.”
The Franklin Farmers Market is expected to begin on June 23 at Marceau Park on Central Street, while in Wilmot the farmers market will start on June 27 on the town green.
While the Intown Farmers Market in Manchester will not be taking place in the traditional sense, plans are in the works for a limited version of the market to return. Starting on June 25 farmers with Fresh Start Farms, a program of the Manchester-based Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, will be at Victory Park every Thursday through August.
“It’s going to be more like a farm stand,” Intown Manchester executive director Sara Beaudry said. “We were already in the process of restructuring our farmers market … to move from Stanton Plaza back to Victory Park, but then with everything going on we teamed up with ORIS to bring the market back and to simplify it.”
Jameson Small, program manager for the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project at ORIS, said members of Fresh Start Farms are also at the Bedford, Concord, Merrimack, Milford and Salem markets. In addition to leafy greens they’ll have tomatoes, cucumbers and squash later in the summer, as well as ethnic crops, like amaranth greens and African eggplant.
The pandemic has caused a few markets in New Hampshire to pull the plug on their summer seasons entirely. One of the most notable to shut down for the year is the Derry Homegrown Farm & Artisan Market, which would have begun earlier this month in downtown Derry.
The market’s board had initially announced that the season would at least be delayed before the decision was made to cancel it altogether on June 2, one day before its original opening date.
“It was a really, really difficult decision that we did not want to have to do,” market manager and board vice president Neil Wetherbee said of its cancellation.
Wetherbee said it came down to the market’s location and its board ensuring the safety of all vendors and customers. Unlike most of the other markets, which are on paved surfaces, Derry’s is on grass, eliminating the ability to make six-foot markers with chalk. He also said its unique location in the center of town, along with its proximity to the rail trail, made it difficult to mandate specific entry and exit points for visitors. Other potential locations in town were considered but its board ultimately could not find one suitable.
In addition to all of those factors, Wetherbee said if the market were to take place it would have featured less than half of its regular vendors.
“We spent the last three years trying to turn this into a community event … and it really would’ve been a shell of what it has been,” he said. “A big part of discussion also was that we didn’t want to live with the responsibility if one of our vendors, especially one of our older vendors, was to get sick, or if we started to see a spike in virus cases in Derry.”
The Lee Farmers Market, which would have started on the last Thursday in May, has also canceled its season, instead “existing virtually,” according to manager Tina Sawtelle.
“We’ve sort of pivoted to becoming an online source to help local farms connect to customers, and to point people in the right direction for where to get product,” said Sawtelle, who originally started the market with her husband through the Lee Agricultural Commission. “It’s actually helped our vendors increase their CSA shares too.”
Find a market everyday
Here’s a list of summer farmers markets happening in southern New Hampshire.
• Cole Gardens Farmers Market is from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Cole Gardens (430 Loudon Road, Concord), now through October. Visit colegardens.com.
• Dover Farmers Market is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Henry Law Park (1 Washington St., Dover), now through Oct. 11. Visit seacoastgrowers.org.
• Nashua Farmers Market will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at City Hall Plaza (229 Main St.), June 21 through Oct. 18. Visit downtownnashua.org/local.
• Salem Farmers Market is from 10 a.m. to noon at Salem Marketplace (224 N. Broadway). Visit salemnhfarmersmarket.org.
• Durham Farmers Market is from 2:15 to 6 p.m. in the parking lot of Sammy’s Market (5 Madbury Road), now through October. Visit seacoastgrowers.org.
• Fresh Chicks Local Outdoor Market is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Monadnock Community Hospital (452 Old Street Road, Peterborough), now through October. Email email@example.com.
• Bedford Farmers Market is from 3 to 6 p.m. in the parking lot of the former Harvest Market (209 Route 101), now through Sept. 29. Visit bedfordfarmersmarketnh.org.
• Franklin Farmers Market is from 3 to 6 p.m. at Marceau Park (Central Street), June 23 through Sept. 29. Find them on Facebook @franklinlocalmarket.
• Rochester Farmers Market is from 3 to 6 p.m. at Rochester Community Center (150 Wakefield St.). Visit rochesternhfarmersmarket.com.
• Canterbury Community Farmers Market is from 4 to 6:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the Elkins Public Library (9 Center Road), now through Sept. 30. Visit canterburyfarmersmarket.com.
• Dover Farmers Market is from 2:15 to 6 p.m. in the parking lot of the Dover Chamber of Commerce (550 Central Ave), now through Oct. 7. Visit seacoastgrowers.org.
• Merrimack Farmers Market is from 3 to 6 p.m. at Vault Motor Storage (526 Daniel Webster Highway, Merrimack), now through Oct. 7. Visit merrimacknh.gov/farmers-market.
• Peterborough Farmers Market is from 3 to 6 p.m. on the lawn of the Peterborough Community Center (25 Elm St.). Find them on Facebook @peterboroughnhfarmersmarket.
• Exeter Farmers Market is from 2:15 to 6 p.m. behind the Seacoast School of Technology (30 Linden St.), now through Oct. 29. Visit seacoastgrowers.org.
• Henniker Community Market is from 4 to 7 p.m. at Henniker Community Center (57 Main St.), now through October. Find them on Facebook @hennikercommunitymarket.
• Intown Manchester’s Farmers Market will be from 3 to 6 p.m. at Victory Park (Concord and Chestnut streets, Manchester), June 25 through Aug. 27. Find them on Facebook @manchesterfood.
• Rindge Farmers Market is from 3 to 6 p.m. at West Rindge Common (Route 202 North), now through Oct. 8. Find them on Facebook @rindgefarmersandcraftersmarket.
• Wolfeboro Area Farmers Market is from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Clark Park (233 S. Main St., Wolfeboro), now through Oct. 15. Visit wolfeboroareafarmersmarket.com.
• Francestown Community Market is from 4 to 7 p.m. across from the Francestown Police Station (15 New Boston Road). Find them on Facebook @francestowncommunitymarket.
• Barnstead Farmers Market is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 96 Maple St. in Center Barnstead, now through September. Visit barnsteadfarmersmarket.club.
• Concord Farmers Market is from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Capitol Street in Concord (near the Statehouse), now through October. Visit concordfarmersmarket.com.
• Contoocook Farmers Market is from 9 a.m. to noon at 896 Main St. in Contoocook. The year-round market usually moves indoors to Maple Street Elementary School (194 Main St.) beginning in early November, according to market manager Karin Cohen.
• New Boston Farmers Market is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the corner of Route 13 and Meetinghouse Hill Road, now through October (no market on Saturday, July 4). Visit newbostonfarmersmarket.webs.com.
• New Ipswich Farmers Market is from 9 a.m. to noon at the New Ipswich town offices (661 Turnpike Road). Find them on Facebook @newipswichfarmersmarket.
• Milford Farmers Market is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 300 Elm St. in Milford (across the street from the New Hampshire Antique Co-op), now through Oct. 10. Visit milfordnhfarmersmarket.com.
• Portsmouth Farmers Market is from 8 a.m. to noon at the Little Harbour School (50 Clough Drive, Portsmouth), now through Nov. 7. Visit seacoastgrowers.org.
• Warner Area Farmers Market is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the lawn of Warner Town Hall (5 E. Main St.), now through October. Visit warnerfarmersmarket.org.
• Wilmot Farmers Market will be from 9 a.m. to noon at 9 Kearsarge Valley Road in Wilmot, June 27 through Sept. 26. Visit wilmotfarmersmarket.com.