Back at the Amherst Farmers’ Market-Life is good!

afm

Inside a Saturday Farmers’ Market

I have been going to the Amherst Farmers’ Market for over two decades now. It is a wonderful place as the Saturday morning has many farms and townspeople mingling. I wrote about AFM in the August, 2008 issue of the Sturbridge Times Magazine. Below is the article. A few of the people mentioned have passed away. They are still missed.

It starts early. Vendors drive up to the parking lot at the Amherst Farmers Market, and are guided in
by market manager, Max Breiteneicher. They unload and set up quickly. The market opens at
7:30 a.m. and townspeople get there fast and they know what they want.

This has been going on for over 30 years. From May to mid-November, every Saturday finds the
south parking lot on the common filled with sellers. The lane between the two sets of facing stands is
filled with customers. Some seem to have taken up the sport of speed shopping and others linger to
inquire about the farmers methods and ask when produce was picked. Some just pass the time of day.
It may not be correct to say it is a place to see and be seen but the social atmosphere is pervasive. I sus-
pect some regulars don’t even like vegetables or the other products we vend. They just love the
ambiance.

I didn’t expect to get too involved with the market. At the time I first approached David
Machowski, then market manager, I was (still am) a small-time beekeeper who just had honey to sell
and was looking for an outlet. David could not have been kinder. John Spineti, the president, was as welcoming.

So one morning saw me set up a small table. It was so much fun and everyone, whether customers
or vendors, were friendly. I was not there more than a short time when Bob Rondeau, an apple
orchardist and maple syrup producer from Ware and Gilbertville came over and introduced himself. As
friendly a man as you’ll ever meet and typical of the market

I was hooked. My weekends were not taken up anyway. I am not a golfer and my wife still refuses to
allow me to keep a string of polo ponies. Of course the question was, what else could I sell? We do have a good size garden for a family, but hardly a farm. Other vendors had niches that one would not be advised to compete on. I grow a lot of basil, but Delta Farm was actually making pesto at the market. I’m not a flower guy and there were already a few
sellers doing that well enough that they did not need my help. Carol Joyce had the herbalist posi-
tion sewn up.

Well the next summer we just planted a lot more beets and green beans. It’s not exactly agribusiness. In fact my wife used to say to customers, “Every green bean individually named.” That was a slight
exaggeration, but speaks to the nature of the Amherst market. Everyone wants to sell as much as
they can, but it is quality over quantity.

This year, we added a new product. It was a shock to me that it did so well. Our cows have been sharing their manure with us for years and we decided to
share it with our customers. We brought a few bags to the first market and though I’d not use the term
“sold like hot cakes,” there are flower gardeners who appreciated the output of grass fed cattle.
I like to think it is a unique product, but the market is full of things you don’t find everywhere. For example, I start my day with a jalapeno ciabatta from a baker that sets up. Farmer Dan Pratt grows fifty varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Want a steak and cheese sandwich? Jeanette of Chase Hill Farm
will sell you the cheese and the beef, all from grass-fed cattle. You do have to make the sandwich your-
self.

There are hand made brooms from Justamere Tree Farm. Popsicles, my downfall, from Sunset
Farm. Larry Siegel will sell you wild mushrooms. You can get an eggplant from Jeremy of Simple
Gifts Farm. John Spineti of Twin Oaks Farm sold my daughter a fig tree several years ago that is still
bearing. Marie Fowler of Small Pond Farm has the
flowers you want. All this and more in a festival atmosphere.
This begs the question, as proposed by Larry Morrison in his article this month, why is there no
similar market in Sturbridge? Surely there are enough people who have an interest in fresh, locally grown food.

There once was. A number of years ago, I chanced on the now-defunct Sturbridge Farmers
Market. It looked a forlorn affair. Does that mean there can never be one?

Sturbridge should be a natural. It has a large enough population that can draw from other towns.
One problem with the previous Sturbridge marketwas location. The Amherst market is visible to
vehicle and foot traffic. If a market is to start here, it will have to be somewhere easy to see to build a
following. There are a couple of markets in the area.
Brimfield has one on Saturdays with a couple of  vendors who seem to do okay. The Sunday
Brookfield Market at the Tip Top Country Store has about a half dozen stands who are doing a
steady business.

A Sturbridge Market will not just happen. Building a market is not easy. With all that
Amherst has going for it, it wasn’t a piece of cake there either. It was the tenacity of the vendors
that made the difference. Jim Pitts, one of the Pillars at Amherst told me why they succeeded.
He quoted a definition of character; it is “To persist long after the mood is gone.”
Amherst is the land where they just kept at it and did it. I’m so grateful they did.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *