“I’m only getting started,” said Fifield, of Canterbury, who visits the market weekly. “I like to pick up vegetables, even though I raise a lot myself — if I find something I don’t raise I’m very apt to buy it,” she said.
As she has seen Canterbury evolve from farming community to commuter town, Fifield likes seeing the growers at the farmers market because it shows that local farming is making a comeback.
“It’s coming back in a different way but it’s coming back,” she said. “It’s great.”
Farmers market frenzy
Farmers markets have taken off in popularity throughout the Granite State over the last 20 years. When Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of the Division of Agricultural Development at the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food, joined the state department in the mid-1990s there were only 12 markets statewide. This year 85 farmers markets registered in New Hampshire.
“They’re growing like gangbusters here in New Hampshire — and year-round,” said Lorraine Merrill, commissioner of the New Hampshire Dept. of Agriculture, Markets and Food.. “In the last four years we have gone from zero to 20 sites of winter markets.”
“I expect to see that number grow even more,” McWilliam Jellie added. In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture listed more than 6,000 farmers markets in the country, up 46 percent from the year 2000, she said.
“It is truly a national trend,” McWilliam Jellie said.
By definition, a farmers market must consist of two or more farms gathered together to sell a product. A farmers market cannot be held on the property of any participating vendor “just to prevent somebody from being more of a farm stand than a farmers market; to prevent anybody from taking advantage of the term ‘farmers market,’” McWilliam Jellie said.
The New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food creates an annual directory of farmers markets and highlights new vendors. The department also works closely with the New Hampshire Farmers Market Association (NHFMA), a statewide organization that was formed eight years ago. McWilliam Jellie serves as an adviser to the NHFMA board of directors and helps with promotions and advertising.
“Back at the time [NHFMA] was formed there was a desire of some of the market managers to have some sort of a networking organization … to co-promote and chat about [market] issues amongst themselves,” McWilliam Jellie said.
NHFMA President Kris Mossey noted the importance of the role the state plays in supporting farmers markets.
“They have the knowledge and the background to help us,” she said. “To have the support of the state government is just an essential thing, because otherwise I don’t think we would be recognized … they’re advocates for us.”
Merrill noted there has been an increased amount of local food advocacy, activism and activities in the Upper Valley and on the Seacoast, as well as in Cheshire County and some areas surrounding Manchester and Concord.
New Hampshire participates in the National Farmers Market Celebration the first week of every August, McWilliam Jellie said, during which many markets will hold special activities, entertainment, cooking demonstrations or tastings (a full National Farmers Market Celebration Week schedule will be listed at www.nhfma.org
as the week draws near). August is New Hampshire Eat Local Month (a schedule for Eat Local Month events will be available at www.nheatlocal.com
“We encourage people to have special events on their farms or for restaurants to do special things with local foods,” McWilliam Jellie said, adding that the New Hampshire Food Bank holds an annual dinner during Eat Local Month.
Mossey feels it is important to have a statewide organization, such as the NHFMA, to spread the word about farmers markets and promote the farming industry.
Mossey has served as NHFMA president since 2007. She previously was market manager at the Milford Farmers Market, in which her farm, Brothers McLeod Orchard, has participated for a long time. Her farm also takes part in the Bedford Farmers Market.
“I knew [markets] were important for farmers in the state,” Mossey said. “We ourselves are looking to generate extra income for our farm.”
Who benefits from farmers markets?
McWilliam Jellie said farmers markets can help relieve the economic plight of local farms.
“Some of these people have fairly vibrant retail stands or offer pick-your-own but go to the farmers market not only for added sales but for advertising,” she said, noting that farmers market customers may be more apt to visit the farm when the market season ends.
For many farms, McWilliam Jellie said, farmers markets can serve as a main source of income if the farmers participate in more than one market weekly.
Speaking from firsthand experience, Mossey, owner of Brothers McLeod Orchard in Milford, noted that if her farm expected to make all of its income from offering pick-your-own apples, no money would be coming in until the fall. “So farmers markets are important for us so we can have income coming earlier in the year … for us it’s a certain portion of our income,” she said.
Farmers markets provide ways for people to easily access a wide variety of locally grown products, Merrill said. She said she attends many farmers markets across the state and loves that each one is different.
“They’re wonderful for communities,” she said. “We see many communities seeking to have farmers markets and downtown businesses supporting them and wanting to have farmers markets located in their town because they have this really revitalizing effect on downtowns and communities.”
“They’re like social and cultural events, like having a fair every week,” Merrill said.
Merrill believes farmers markets can benefit communities of all sizes.
“The size of the community doesn’t seem to make a difference,” McWilliam Jellie agreed. “Obviously the location has to be [within] a reasonable travel distance for the farmers to get to.”
Mossey, who noted some of the state’s largest markets are the ones in Manchester, Concord and Portsmouth, said that a market’s success also depends on the mix of vendors that participate.
“It is very common for a farmers market to be the thing to do on a Friday evening or Saturday morning,” Mossey said. “It’s a place where you are going to see your neighbors, meet your farmers, and I think it provides a nice social atmosphere for communities as well as … an opportunity to get fresh local fruits, vegetables and other products.”
Farmers markets, Mossey added, draw awareness to New Hampshire agriculture.
“… not too many people are farmers anymore,” she said. “You actually get to meet the people that grow your food and form a connection with a local farm in the area.”
Merrill noted that in some regions of the state farmers markets, while they might change locations, are being held year-round. “On the Seacoast, for instance, you can go every month of the year now,” Merrill said. “And why that is, I think, is because this whole interest, and even passion, for local food and local farms is really driving it.”
“People are wanting to reconnect with local food producers,” she said.
Merrill also attributed the interest in local food to the fact that more chefs are not only opting to incorporate local offerings into their dishes but have done a lot to “educate people about how excellent many of our locally produced foods are … and highlight what is in season.”
Winter farmers markets boomed last winter as many people did not want markets to stop, Mossey said.
“They don’t want the market to end in the fall; they want it to continue,” Mossey said, noting that most winter markets are held monthly instead of weekly. Farmers are now planning ahead to store their cellar crops in anticipation of participating in winter markets. “Now that farmers know there are winter markets they can plan and maybe grow a few greens in hoop houses … and when selling apples they can store some of them instead of trying to sell them all at the farm,” Mossey said.
More than just fruits and vegetables
Locally raised meats are now being offered at more farmers markets, as are locally made wines (wine vendors must be granted local approval and comply with regulations, McWilliam Jellie said). Granite State fisheries are also selling their catches at markets.
“For fishermen, just like farmers, if they are able to sell directly to the consumer they can get a little higher price for their product,” Merrill said. “The fishermen are really looking to expand by working with farms and have adopted Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.”
Mossey has noticed an increase in the variety of products being offered at farmers markets: “It might be perhaps surprising to people that [the markets] are not just offering local fruits and vegetables but also baked goods, maple syrup, honey and all kinds of value-added products,” she said, adding that some new specialty products that have been making their way into Granite State farmers markets have been goat milk soap and dog biscuits.
“Farmers markets are very much an incubator for small businesses in New Hampshire,” Mossey said.
And more than just food
Janet King, of Canterbury, noted farmers markets as a good fit to sell her homemade Hickorywood lip balm, body soap, laundry soap and vegetable-based dog soap because fresh lavender and peppermint are used in her products.
“We also try to get honey local for most of our products,” King said.
As it can be quite a task to market a new product — King started selling soaps last September — she and her business partner opted to see how their product would fare at the Canterbury Farmers Market. King also paints with watercolors while at the market.
When Sue Whittaker, of Bedford, sets up her stand at the Bedford Farmers Market she does not have to unload a truck or count the money in her till; instead she tucks her easel and a small palette of paints behind the entertainment tent.
Whittaker, an artist, likes to give market-goers a chance to see her at work but also invites them to participate in the “plein-air,” which she said means paining out in the open air and painting from live observation.
“People that are interested can come talk to me, join me, give it a try without it costing anything,” Whittaker said, beaming from underneath a straw bonnet.
Those interested in joining Whittaker need only bring their own art supplies to paint, observe and be inspired by the farmers market and to “be part of the cultural experience,” she said.
Whittaker said she is inspired by everything at the market — even the thunderclouds looming overhead.
“There is plenty of inspiration,” she said. “Last week it was strawberries, this week it’s flowers; every week a new vegetable comes out.”
And when it rains, Whittaker said, it is just as easy to grab a jar of jelly to paint under the entertainment tent.
“You don’t have to be good [at art],” she said. “It’s just a nice way to relax.”
Sellin’ in the suburbs
“Time to ring the bell,” Sue Stretch, owner of Laurel Jellies and Jams, called out when the clock struck 3 p.m. on a recent Wednesday. The bell was to signal that the Bedford Farmers Market at Benedictine Park was open for business.
Bedford Farmers Market President Julie Patterson said every market shopper comes with a different plan of attack.
“If they are cautious they will visit all booths first and check out what they have before they start to buy,” she said. “Some come here first, then do their grocery shopping, and some attend farmers markets all week long.”
Diane Souther, of Apple Hill Farm in Concord, has been participating in the Bedford market for eight years. She also takes part in the Tilton, Manchester and Concord markets. Lining her table at a recent Bedford market were sugar snap peas, lettuces, cucumbers, sweet cherries and strawberries.
“We are rounding the hump for strawberries,” Souther said. “We will have them for another week or so.”
Patterson herself adds a little variety to the offerings at the Bedford Farmers Market as her farm, Kelly Corner Farm in Chichester, raises and sells lamb, goat, pork and free-range chicken. All of Patterson’s products are kept in a freezer on a trailer that also has a generator. She often grills up samples to share with customers.
Patterson noted that as there are more farmers markets in the area, business can be slow in Bedford.
“There is also a constant battle to keep vendors here because to keep customers here we need to a balance [of products],” Patterson said. “You can’t have all fresh produce — no one will come back and no one will make money.”
Patterson said a democratic process is used when selecting vendors for each season.
“We need to think of how to best serve the needs of our customer base,” she said.
Even though the Bedford Farmers Market stops running in October, Patterson said many customers will place their Thanksgiving turkey orders with her.
“So it doesn’t totally end in October,” she said.
Kris Sanders, owner of Sanders Fish Market in Portsmouth, has been participating in the Bedford Farmers Market for nearly seven years. Her regular offerings include haddock, mahi mahi, sea bass, salmon burgers, clam and crab cakes and shucked oysters, but on any given day lobster macaroni and cheese, fresh snapper and Arctic char and day boat sea scallops could be found on the specials board.
“It’s been lots of fun up here,” she said of the market.
Diane Romagnoli brings a product to the Bedford Farmers Market that is not normally found on grocery store shelves: homemade artisanal flatbread crisps in a handful of different flavors. Romagnoli, one of three owners of Craquelins, noted that the hearty rustic crackers are made using a slow fermentation process that is more than 100 years old.
“People that really love food enjoy the different tastes on their palate,” she said.
Romagnoli said she is able to cross-market her product at farmers markets because the crisps pair well with cheese, jams, jellies and wines, all of which can also be purchased at the local markets. Romagnoli and her two business partners will be selling their products at the Bedford, Derry, Dover, Exeter, Portsmouth and Rollinsford farmers markets this season. They also participate in the Bedford and Laconia winter markets.
“It’s quite enjoyable — after a really hot day of cooking and baking, then hitting the market, you get re-energized when you see the same facial expressions and jaws drop when they try your product,” Romagnoli said.
In addition to musical entertainment, the Bedford Farmers Market often offers such activities as face painting and an adult knitting circle.
“We wanted to be a community-based event so that it doesn’t have to just be about the food but more like neighbors meeting neighbors,” Patterson said.
A small-town market
Names of vendors are written in chalk in each space in the library lot and tables are set up in front of open trunks at each booth at the Canterbury Farmers Market. Lawn chairs are preset in front of the entertainment tent.
Jill McCullough, owner of North Family Farm in Canterbury, said that the popularity of the small-town market has ebbed and flowed. McCullough has been selling maple syrup and maple products at the Canterbury Farmers Market since its inception five years ago.
“The first year was good, but the second year it was hard to convince people in a rural community that we were offering more than what they have in their gardens,” she said. “Now we seem to have more of a following and it is more of a social event than just people buying things.”
Twenty-two vendors are participating in this year’s Canterbury Farmers Market, an amount that is up from 14 last year. Offerings at this year’s market include fudge, freshly squeezed lemonade, potted flowers and plants, hand-carved wooden bowls, baskets and coat racks, and seafood from Seabrook Beach.
Warner River Organic Farm, owned by Jim Ramanek of Webster, is a fourth-year participant in the Canterbury Farmers Market, but Ramanek said he has been selling his certified organic produce at other markets in the state for seven years. He sells potted vegetable plants weekly and individual vegetables as they come into season. Ramanek is now selling peas, lettuce, beet greens, turnips, rhubarb and garlic scapes. Summer squash, he said, is almost ready.
The end of July will bring cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and cabbage and Ramanek said if he’s lucky he will also be selling peppers.
Ramanek said he sees sales increase every year as more people are seeking certified organic products.
“The eat-local movement has compelled people to buy local products. The money stays in the local communities and everyone benefits,” Ramanek said of the farmers market’s maintaining some success.
For a second year Isabel Gillespie is selling traditional Honduran dishes at the Canterbury Farmers Market. Most recently, she offered baleadas (flour tortillas filled with fried beans and cheese) and empanadas (corn tortillas filled with fried beans and cheese), wrapped in brown paper bags and kept warm in an insulated Styrofoam box.
“We wanted to expose the roots of our culture and support the market,” Gillespie said of her participation in the weekly event. “It’s also fun because our children get to be with their friends.”
Coffin Cellars, a Webster-based fruit winery, is a first-time participant at the Canterbury market. “It is an interesting concept to sell fruit wine and not grape wine. It’s something a lot of people have never had before and they are buying it without being able to taste it first,” said Amber Nishikawa, a representative for the winery. Coffin Cellars offers blackberry, cranberry-pomegranate and raspberry wines at the market.
“It’s so much easier to buy strawberries local and vegetables local, but buying wine local is not as easy…,” Nishikawa said. “It’s safe to say that most wine comes from 3,000 miles away. Here you can get something from 10 minutes away.”
McCullough noted that while markets in larger communities, such as Concord, are better attended because of the dense population, she has seen an increase in attendance at the Canterbury market.
“It feels like the locavore movement is progressively growing and hasn’t reached its peak yet,” she said.
Looking to sell at a farmers market?
Nada Haddad, agricultural resources educator at the UNH Cooperative Extension in Rockingham County, conducts annual “Learn How to Sell at Farmers Markets” workshops. This year she held four in Rockingham County as she received many requests from newer vendors and markets.
The workshops drew a class size of up to 15 growers and market managers, with the managers bringing the information back to their vendors.
Haddad suggests that growers focus on how their products are displayed at the markets and even discourages the use of certain colored canopies, as they can affect the perception of produce. For example, a blue canopy might stand out among those of other growers but when sunlight filters through it the produce will look darker and yellow items, such as peaches, might look green.
“It doesn’t give the real color of produce,” Haddad said.
Offering high-quality produce is also important because that is what people are looking for when they attend farmers markets, Haddad said.
“They are looking for produce that is picked at the right time — the peak of the harvest — and is not over- or under-mature,” she said.
Customer service is covered at Haddad’s workshops; she teaches vendors how to interact with customers and tells them to have information on hand as to how vegetables or fruits are being grown and how to store them. Handing out recipe cards is also a good idea so that customers can better know how to use their purchases, Haddad said.
Haddad also covers pricing in her workshops, telling growers to keep in mind the cost of their production and to look at the prices of their competitors.
“Some heirloom varieties might sell better or be higher priced than a regular tomato,” she said. “If you have a niche product … you could set it at a higher price.”
On the marketing side, Haddad said it is important to prominently display your business name and to hand out business cards or fliers or “at least something so when people go back home they can take their produce and have in hand the name of the farm.”
“When people visit farmers markets they visit so many different vendors that it is really hard to keep track of everything unless they are taking notes,” Haddad said. “[Growers] need to make it easy on the customers.”
Mossey noted that social networking has emerged as a successful way to promote markets by keeping consumers up to date on the goings-on at the farmers markets and what they are offering. Some farmers also often post pictures of their products.
“[Social networking] is certainly a way of helping to get the word out in a very easy way … Facebook is very timely; people are looking for that instant information,” Mossey said. The NHFMA recently received a grant that will pay for television spots to promote markets.
Mossey would not venture a guess as to what the average vendor pays to participate in a farmers market but noted that the fees usually kept at a reasonable rate so that farmers can afford to take part. Fees for market participation are used for basic things such as advertising, signage and portable bathrooms.
“It’s a bare-bones kind of thing,” Mossey said. “Because most markets are in open air on public space there is not rent, generally, to worry about.”
Never been to a farmers market?
Mossey said first-time farmers market attendees will be surprised at how much fun they have.
“They’re going to say ‘I can’t believe I’ve never been’ and are not going to want to miss it again,” she said. Many people who have claimed to be too busy to stop in the markets in the past are now making time to go, she added.
“I think you will be pleasantly surprised if you haven’t been,” Mossey said. “The abundance of what we can grow in New Hampshire and what we have to offer is not what people expect.”