The Farmers’ Market Bri Built, Sort Of: Part II

Bri DeRosa (Red, Round or Green)

Bri DeRosa (Red, Round or Green) › I like to think of myself as a young, cool, urban fringe locavore, but the reality ...

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How hard is it to start a winters farmers’ market? Bri DeRosa knows! She details her experience starting a farmers’ market in her Rhode Island community with her series “The Farmers’ Market Bri Built, Sort Of.” Read Part I here.

One of the good things about where I live is that it’s what I’d call a very intentional neighborhood, for the most part. People who live here do so mainly because they truly WANT to. They like the old-school atmosphere, the quaint waterfront historic district, the close proximity to the city of Providence, and the kind of crunchy, intellectual, activist vibe that tends to run through the veins of many of the families here. We’re a reusable-bag toting, small-business supporting, non-profit-loving, composting kind of bunch.

Within a neighborhood like this one, there are some givens, one of which is – handily – that one group or individual within the fold of the community is almost guaranteed to have an extremely open ear to any idea that could help another part of the community. I happen to belong to a church in the neighborhood, just about a mile from the site of the summer farmers’ market, that has a very big old building and a very small old budget. It seemed to me that there were two star-crossed lovers in this picture: A church that needs (and welcomes) renters to support its gigantic space, and an outdoor market that needed a welcoming and affordable home if it was ever going to continue into the colder months.

I approached the church first, just to get a feel for things, and I’d like to dramatize the exchange for the sake of a good narrative, but I can’t. It was easy. I said to one of the deacons, “What would you think about maybe starting a winter farmers’ market here?  Would that possibly bring in some decent rental income and foot traffic to the church?”

She said, “Oh, that’s a good idea. Do you think it’s possible?”

And that was kind of it.

Ditto on the vendors. There was a lot of talking and a lot of speculation between me, the farmers, the organizer and manager of the Summer Market, and another volunteer who heard about the project and came forward willing to help. Ultimately, there was never a question that people WANTED to do it. What surprised me most, I think, was that so many of them thought they’d have things worth selling in the dead of winter. After all, it’s wintertime in New England. Most of these farmers don’t necessarily have the space or the money for expensive greenhouses and the like, and as far as I know the only thing that grows in New England in the winter is rocks, or something. But surprisingly, seven vendors came forward and said they would want to participate. IF.

It was a big if. IF we could make it worth people’s while – that’s no small charge. Some of the vendors had been to the newer weeknight winter market, an offshoot of the very popular large Saturday market north of us, and they had horror stories of just standing there for hours while virtually no customers came to buy their wares. Could I guarantee that it wouldn’t become just another weeknight time-waster?

Um. No. But maybe?

That crashing sound you just heard was reality falling through our pie in the sky and spattering lemon meringue all over my visions of a super-cool, cutting-edge winter farmers’ market.

I talked with the Captain, who runs the local seafood venture that wanted “in.” We conferred with the summer market manager and a few other farmers. We solicited opinions from a bunch of knowledgeable market-type people. And we came up with a grand vision of creating an online web portal that would allow vendors to post what they were bringing, so customers could pre-order if they liked; that way, everyone would know what was available, and the vendors would be guaranteed at least the number of pre-order sales they’d garnered, plus whatever foot traffic came through.

We were smug and self-satisfied with this solution, until we realized the following things:

  1. I don’t know how to build a web ordering system like that.
  2. None of the farmers knew how to build a web ordering system like that.
  3. None of the market folk knew how to build a web ordering system like that.
  4. Nobody knew anybody who would build a web ordering system like that… for free.
  5. We didn’t have any money.

That crashing sound you just heard was reality falling through our pie in the sky and spattering lemon meringue all over my visions of a super-cool, cutting-edge winter farmers’ market.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Bri’s adventures in forming a winter farmers’ market!

Photo Credit: Kim Morin| Blue Skys Farm