One town 45 minutes away from our farm has a market right on Main Street, in front of a fuel company’s office that’s set off a bit from the sidewalk. It’s a small group — maybe a dozen vendors for a few hours once a week. But it’s highly visible, and bustling. People create farmers markets outside of schools, libraries, hospitals, museums, churches, factories, beaches, community centers and village greens. How about the Department of Motor Vehicles? The YMCA? The gym? I’ve even seen food stores welcome farmers to their parking lots because they attract people and bring in more business.
Mobility and simplicity make it work. No need to raise funds for a building. Vendors bring pop-up tents and folding tables, selling their produce out of vans, pickup trucks and station wagons. Our farm came up with a mobile farm stand called the Veggie Wagon, towed on a flatbed. The front and sides open out with shelves for produce, with awnings to keep off the hot sun or the rain.
Big towns have big markets, but many shoppers prefer the small neighborhood ones with less bustle and more personal interaction. They might appear in neighborhoods with no access to good produce. Sometimes they reflect a particular ethnic group. I love the ones that offer great home-prepared dishes, smelling good and ready to eat. Having crafts booths is okay, too, but I like a market best when the focus is on food. One I know takes place in a large glass greenhouse, which the vendors rent from a plant nursery. It’s a winter market, where shoppers congregate every Saturday from October to May for great espresso, sticky buns and the fresh winter vegetables that have become more and more plentiful as growers take up season-extension techniques.
Like a safe, well-lighted and well-maintained public park, a farmers market fosters interaction among neighbors. It creates community. Crime rates even fall in a place where a market has sprung up.
That Massachusetts highway market turned out to be part of a state program. A rest stop might not be the coziest place to gather, but if a traveler can get back in the car with a bunch of carrots or a box of local, fresh-picked strawberries instead of canned juice from concentrate, the idea gets my vote.
Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”
— Adrian Higgins