Farmers' markets crop up in the area
Area farmers' markets open for the summer season
By Kristal Spence
The Stonington-Mystic Times
From freshly picked strawberries to home-baked pastries, the recently opened farmer’s markets in Mystic seem to have it all. Families and tourists rush to Pequotsepos Road on Sundays and the Quiambaug Firehouse on Tuesdays for a taste of Connecticut’s finest crops and dishes.
Richard Macsuga, marketing representative for the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, said farmer’s markets have exploded across the country and the farmer’s markets in the state have launched with great success.
In some ways, finding farmers is the easy part; in fact he has quite a few who are hoping to participate in this season’s program. The real challenge, Mascuga said, is signing up those who are committed to sticking with the program for the season, as well as dealing with local zoning regulations, finding suitable locations and making sure farmers are properly certified.
“This is a year-long process,” Macsuga said. “Literally, we start to organize it around Jan. 1. I’m currently dealing with 87 different farmer’s markets throughout Connecticut,” he said, adding that there are 300 to 310 different farmers throughout the state. Macsuga said in the last year, there has been an increase of 13 new farmer’s markets and 20 new farmers in Connecticut.
“This has been the biggest increase we’ve seen,” he said.
Though there has been a decrease in farmers and acreage used for farming as reported in the 2002 Census of Agriculture County profile in Connecticut, Macsuga said the New London County area has 10 different farmer’s markets and 22 different farmers. He attributed the decrease to the fact there aren’t a lot of young farmers moving to the area. “Having a smaller farm is not exactly a bad thing,” he explained. Macsuga said many farmers are using their smaller farms of about 5 to 10 acres for direct marketing.
He also works with “market gardeners.”
“They’re small individual operations,” he said. “They do not have a farm but have enough production area in their lawn. It makes sense to market their production.” He said market gardeners can use the farmer’s markets as a stepping stone to ease into selling their own products. “It’s a great way to get started and it’s fairly inexpensive,” Macsuga said.
Farmer’s markets can bring life to a community. “Businesses thought it would take away their business… but then realized it enhanced the local economy by bringing business to the area,” Macsuga said. He believes the environment surrounding a farmer’s market is one that’s wholesome and unique. “It’s a way to buy from a local farmer but also see your neighbor,” he said.
Macsuga said some markets might just sell fruits and vegetables and others can be more diverse with cut flowers, jams and jellies, eggs and fruit. He said at the Groton Farmer’s Market, held on Wednesdays in the Groton Shopping Plaza off Route 1, the average customer would find some experienced growers who sell quality goods. “They have some real veterans over there that have been doing it for years,” he said.
Macsuga said all farmer’s markets are different but in Mystic, the average customer would find some great quality growers. He said some markets are like the Mystic Farmer’s Market, held on Tuesdays at 50 Old Stonington Road, having a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Macsuga said the Mystic/Denison Farmer’s Market, held on Sundays at 120 Pequotsepos Road, now in its second season, is well on its way to becoming a great market. “It’s very diverse with different products offered,” he said.
Craig Floyd, market master of the Mystic/ Denison Farmer’s Market, said people are starting to appreciate the food farmer’s markets offer.
“People are finally beginning to realize, to eat healthy, go to the local farmer’s market,” he said. By going to a farmer’s market, Floyd guarantees customers get a lot more and a lot less. “I say less because it’s without the pesticides and it’s without the hormones,” he said. He explained that a child can look grown up at a young age solely based on what the child eats from the store. “Food can have lasting effects,” he said.
Floyd said last year some customers made a habit of showing up before the market officially opened, but this year he plans to enforce a stricter schedule. He also made sure this year that vendors had enough time to set up their tables.
“They want to look as professional as possible…they need the time,” he said. Each week, Floyd sends e-mails to registered customers, telling them what types of food and products should be expected at the market. “The people that get the e-mail are here at 12 o’clock,” he said.
Floyd said he has vendors that sell out during the afternoon and he believes customers eagerly come to farmer’s markets because of the quality. “There’s so much more flavor in something fresh.” Aside from the product, Floyd wants customers to understand the foods they purchase are from farmers who grew them in Connecticut. “They might not all be from the Mystic area but they are from Connecticut,” he said.
At last week’s market, the Davis Farm of Pawcatuck had a table with only a couple of products left from the opening rush. “You missed it…they were all here at noon,” farmer John “Whit” Davis said. “We have eggs over there and some scallions.” He said members of his family had been involved in farming since 1654 and they participate in farmer’s markets every year. Davis said farmer’s markets benefit the customers by offering them fresh, locally grown products, as well as the farmers, since they cut out the middle man and get more money for their goods. Davis used to sell his products to stores but realized that “they get all the money and we do all the work.”
The Bread Lady, Mary Soares of Pawcatuck, said she also stopped selling her authentic Portuguese bread in stores.
“I would find my bread smashed…something heavy would be on top of it,” she said. Soares prefers the markets because she has a chance to present her product the way she wants it presented.
Soares has been baking Portuguese bread for more than 30 years and said she sticks to what she knows. Accompanied by her “bread boy,” 10-year-old grandson James William Shabarekh Jr., she gives out samples at the market.
“Once they taste it, they keep ordering it,” she said. Soares said she receives a lot of orders online from across the country. “A lot of the people lived in New England and miss New England food,” she explained. She said they end up finding her Web site and getting hooked on the taste.
Customers get hooked by the smell of Meriano’s Bake Shoppe of Guilford. Chef Andrea Meriano said the shop she runs with her brother, Anthony, is a full-line bakery specializing in Italian pastry.
Last week she sold all stuffed breads filled with spinach, sausage, eggplant and other meats, as well as all the specialty cookies and cannoli. The only items left were a few peanut butter balls and samples of stuffed breads.
Meriano and her brother also are big on pies.
“Whatever berry is in season…we make specialty pies,” Meriano said.
“Some people ask for specific things because of their allergies,” she said. “They ask us if we can bring something next week and we can do that.” Meriano said she loves coming to farmer’s markets because of the beautiful weather and because of it helping their business gain exposure. She said the farmer’s markets are a lot of fun because of the different events they have during the changing seasons.
“I would love to start a grilling contest,” Floyd said. He pointed across the field and said with some mowing, he has plenty of room for grills and additional parking spaces. Floyd said anyone interested in participating in a grilling contest, or in registering for the market newsletter, should send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.