By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent
One of the most innovative and effective ways of strengthening a community is through the local farmers market.
With fewer intermediaries, these independent growers can enhance local economic opportunities while at the same time urging health and wellness among its consumers. Dollars brought in recycle back into the host town rather than being poured into some unknown investor. In so doing, these markets easily become the heart and soul of a community, its common ground, a sense of place where people can easily interact in a milieu of social and economic activity.
Woodstock is no exception. This year, three such markets are offering fresh and flavorful produce and local crafts in addition to palatable prices. They are creating places in which visitors and potential buyers can feel connected to each other and valued commodities as well as feeling anchored to the village and even spurring the germination of the seeds of new local businesses.
The Homegrown Woodstock Artisans and Farmers Cooperative, for instance, serves a variety of food and crafts while giving a chance to small farmers and artisans to sell their wares at a fair price without the overhead costs incurred by markets with paid staff. The co-op was the original idea of Wilfred Rameau of Woodstock who, along with his wife Tina, wanted to establish a lasting co-op for small vendors in the local area.
“We felt this was our chance to bring something to the community,” Rameau said during the application process in 2012. At the time, there were seven vendors slated to set up their spots in the building that is still owned by Alex Tsouknakis who also founded and oversees the Pizza Chef restaurant in the same location.
Now, the indoor co-op hosts roughly 25 vendors and include Prosper Valley Maples (maple syrup, eggs), Swallowtail Woodworks, One Chicken At A Time, Knits (American girl doll clothing), Mary Braily (glass door knobs), Balderdash Dogwear, Tsipa’s Treasures (jewelry), Morrill Mt. Fruit Farm (jams), Aunties Crafts, Cards Marble Meadows (felted animals, eggs), Phylis Potter (eggs, jams), Fox Crossing Farm (vegetables, eggs), Jane Soule (knitted items), Joyce Maura (eggs), Crystal Gardens (herbs), Vermont Game Boards (woodworking, eggs), The Bookkeeper (syrup, pillow cases), Simpvdesigns (photo cards), Hambsch Family Farm (pork), AlpaArt Studio (alpaca yarn), Bowman Farm (beef), Vermont Zips (crafts), and Ed J (Ag products). Vendors pay a minimal fee to cover such costs as insurance and advertising. Located in the Pizza Chef building on Route 4 East, the business collective occupies a 500-square foot space in which each vendor has its own spot to sell its goods. The location allows for easy access and parking. Hours are Monday-Friday from 11-3 p.m. On Saturdays the vendors can be found at Mt. Tom for the longest running open air market in Woodstock. The co-op touts special orders and pickups in addition to seasonal produce. Board members of the two-year-old co-op include President Sue Carey; Market Manager Tina Tuckerman; Vice President Dory Rice; Secretary Lisa Burrell; and Treasurer Corey Barr.
“The co-op is a little slow right now,” said Carey. “One of the problems with farmers in Vermont is that you don’t get a lot of vegetables that you can grow in February, March and April. We also feel it’s hard to see along the road. But we’re working on marketing to get more publicity for local people and tourists.”
As a co-op, people connect and interact — one of the many benefits this indoor market offers, Carey noted.
“It’s great,” said Carey. “There are wonderful people who work here and specialize in everything from knitting to making bowls and jewelry. This is also a place where you can get real eggs from free-range chickens that are mostly outside so they can actually eat what they should including a variety of bugs and grass. So the eggs taste so much better.”
Carey noted the wide array of products offered and said new vendors are always welcome. They pay a shelf fee and work four hours a month, she related. They can contact Barr or Tuckerman if interested in joining.
“If you want to have a future with farms, rural areas, and a vibrant local economy, patronize farmers markets, farm stands, and stores like the Artisans and Farmers Coop in Woodstock,” said Carey. “Without support, artisans go out of business and farms close. This leaves big box stores with poorly made merchandise and food from who knows where with questionable quality and adulterations. We won’t realize what we have until it is gone.”
On the other side of town, heading north on Route 12 and open from mid-May to mid-October, the Mt. Tom Farmers’ Market has been in existence since 1982 and takes place on Saturday mornings on Route 12, a half-mile north from the center of Woodstock, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. There are 24 vendors (with a waiting list) offering a wide variety of local products including vegetables, fruits, plants, flowers, meats, herbs, spices, baked goods, jams/jellies, maple syrup, eggs, and crafts. Founded “to give local producers a chance to sell to the public”, according to Market Manager and Coordinator Neil Lamson, the market is informally managed by a volunteer board of three members including local residents Lisa Burrell, Dana Pape and Tina Tuckerman. Parking is free and the area is handicapped accessible. There is also a port-a-potty on site. One of the unique aspects of this market is that vendors literally sell out of the back of their trucks or cars. They pay a cost for the season and manage their businesses as they want to, according to Lamson.
“Our guidelines are pretty lose as far as how the vendors operate,” Lamson said. “We don’t mess with them as far as what they want to sell or how they look. It’s free enterprise at its best.”
Although vending spots are sold on a permanent basis, new vendors can also set up when one of the regulars does not show up.
“I remember going there when it first opened,” said Pape. “There was a small group formed at the time to see who could come up with the logo. We wanted it for folks to sell their fresh products. It’s easy and convenient and couldn’t get much fresher. And besides, you’re supporting the local economy.”
In its 32nd year, the market entertains up to 400-500 visitors a week, undoubtedly due in part to an increase in public interest in the last five years about the quality of its food.
According to Lamson, when people know who has grown or prepared their food, there is a proportional increase in satisfaction of the consumed product. Conversely, the local market makes it easier for the customer to report any unhappiness with potentially purchased merchandise.
“That’s not easy with a huge food corporation,” said Lamson. “That’s another incentive for our vendors to produce the best products that they can. You can’t hide behind an industrial logo.”
People have finally figured out that it’s better to have locally produced products and talk to the people who have made them, Lamson noted.
“That kind of increase makes the vendors try harder to produce better products,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
In town and held each Wednesday afternoon, the Market on the Green hosts up to 30 vendors who put forth fresh produce as well as home-designed crafts. Located on the Green and initiated in 2006, this market is highly visible to traffic travelling across Vermont in either direction along the federal highway of Route 4. Organized by the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce, the market is open from 3-6 p.m. on Wednesdays only from June 11-Oct. 8. It is permitted for 30 full-season and half-season vendors from the Vermont counties of Windham, Orange, Windsor and Rutland. According to Market Manager Kathy Avellino, the three sections of the market include the areas of agriculture (60 percent), prepared foods (20 percent), and crafts (20 percent). Craft vendors include, for example, local resident Jennifer Maxham’s Woodstockings that offers headbands, jewelry, and belts. Other craft vendors consist of Silver Spoons, Leslie Marceau’s handcrafted jewelry, Filthy Farm Girl (soap), and My Stained Glass. For prepared foods, Ana’s Empanadas and Woodstock Coffee Roasters will have a spot in addition to The Cookie Jar, Naga Bake House, and Flavors of Asia. For agricultural vendors, Cloudland Farm, Fresh Roots Farm (No. Pomfret), Deep Meadows Farm, Woodstock Farmstead Cheese, Plymouth Cheese, Springmore Farm (Baltimore), Rabbit Patch Farm (Bradford), Sunshine Valley Berry Farm (Rochester), and Top Acres Farm (S. Woodstock) are also available.
“We have a large variety of vendors,” said Avellino. “They work really hard – every one of them.”
The application process begins in late winter and vendors are selected by a juried committee, she added. The market also accepts state-issued EBT cards enabling visitors on limited incomes to purchase fresh local foods. It also provides Harvest Health coupons that match every $10 of food stamps used. Farm to Family coupons for WIC aid recipients also double the available assistance. The market works with NOFA (Northeast Organic Farmers’ Association) to provide these benefits that give additional income to growers as well as produce to low-income families.
There is live music once a week and even a monthly children’s market in which children of vendors can sell what they have made.
“There will be also a local solar company with a solar bubble machine and a stationary bike by which smoothies can be made,” said Avellino. “Basically, that market offers children’s activities and the ability to sell their craft items.”
According to Chamber Director Beth Finlayson, this market was initiated to draw people to town once a week, to have something to offer folks downtown.
“There are a variety of markets in the surrounding communities on different days, so we didn’t want to compete,” said Finlayson.
It makes sense to vend once a week, she added because “it’s a tremendous amount of work for vendors to make sure the produce is there, that it is clean, to put up their tents, and even worry about the weather.”
“The Chamber is happy to offer the opportunity to all these vendors to sell enhanced products once a week,” Finalyson said.