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

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 Part II here, and Part III here.

When you’re planning anything, including a winter farmers’ market, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that you know when it will be held and who’s going to be there. At least, that seems to me to be an excellent rule of thumb – one which almost, kind of, got overlooked in our zealous planning.

From the beginning of the discussions about bringing an indoor winter farmers’ market to our neighborhood, it had been generally agreed that Saturdays – the day on which the successful summer market is held – would not work. The biggest deterrents to keeping the day and time of the market consistent (which would, obviously, be a nice boon to participation) were the needs of the church renting us their space (too much potential for conflict with weddings, fundraisers, and other events); and the fact that the two large winter farmers’ markets held in other parts of Rhode Island are both Saturday markets, and some of the vendors needed to be available to go sell their wares there. It was okay. We decided Saturday wasn’t necessary. But of course, with a church space, Sunday was also right out.

Hm.

A weeknight market was scary. The largest Saturday winter market has, in recent years, created an offshoot that meets on Wednesday nights, and some of the farmers reported that it was a total flop from their point of view. However, the Wednesday night market starts at 4 p.m. and ends at 7, and is held in an area where the rush hour traffic is definitely NOT for the faint of heart. Was it possible, we asked each other, that timing and location were more to blame than day of the week?

With a big gulp, we decided to find out. Thursday nights seemed to be the best for everyone concerned, including the church. After some back-and-forth haggling, we all settled on a short-ish market, just 2 hours long, beginning at 5:30. We reasoned that in our neighborhood, many people would be just coming home from work at 5:30 or 6pm and might either like to stop on the way to get some wares for dinner, or come over after a hot meal and a change of clothes. 5pm seemed too early; 6pm seemed too late. We split the difference.

I couldn’t resist asking, though – remember, my knowledge of New England’s natural agricultural bounty in the winter is limited to ROCKS – whether everyone would REALLY have enough produce for a weekly 2-hour winter market. “Are you guys seriously going to have enough to sell?” is how I think I quite tactfully phrased it.

Good thing I asked, because there was some head-scratching and a few tentative, “Well, probably. I mean, yes.” or “Well, depends on how many people come through week-to-week…” kinds of responses. The only person who seemed wholeheartedly confident was the fish guy, but that made sense to me – after all, fish gotta swim, no matter how cold the water is. And as long as those boats are going out, they’re bringing back some kind of catch.

Thus was born a whole SECOND tangled-up, complicated discussion about timing, because some people felt that a weekly market would be best due to the fact that it would help build consistency and make it easier for customers to know when the market was running (Every Thursday is easier than every OTHER Thursday). I understood that reasoning. I also understood the reasoning from the OTHER camp of farmers, who said that a twice-a-month market would be better because it would mean they’d have more bountiful options to sell and the markets that did happen would be more lavish, more beautiful, better stocked, and therefore more appealing in general to the people who came to shop.

In the end, we decided to go with every other week, and I truthfully don’t even recall how that came to be. It almost feels like some of us started assuming that that was the way things would go, and then we just started talking about it as a fait accompli, and eventually everyone accepted that it was true. Maybe. Sometimes that’s how things happen when you’re trying to pull together a crazy community idea.

It occurred to me sometime around the first week of November that I wasn’t entirely sure which vendors were actually planning to show up on opening night. Small detail. I ended up walking around the market that Saturday, taking yet another informal poll in the dozens of “So, you’re going to do it, right?” conversations I’d already had. The market manager and one of the vendors – henceforth to be known as the “Lead Farmer” because she, bless her, ended up taking charge of so many last-minute needs that she probably saved the project – both had reports for me of changes to the roster. “Go talk to the coffee truck people; they want in,” I heard. “(Another farmer) isn’t sure if she can participate because her greenhouse is hard to access in the winter and she doesn’t want to commit, but I’m working on her,” I heard. “(A lovely farming couple) are planning to do farm kitchen goods if they can pull it off, but I’m not sure what’s going on there,” I heard.

Eight vendors? Four vendors? The numbers veered wildly with each conversation, but I held tight to the simple core of things: If we had vegetables and herbs, local seafood, and some honey, we could probably still pull this thing off.

In the end, there were eight names on the email that showed up in my inbox three days prior to our scheduled opening. The wares represented included seafood, pastured meats, eggs, vegetables, herbs, honey, coffee, and homemade breads, pies, and jams. It seemed like a real farmers’ market to me.

Will Bri and her farmers’ market crew pull it off? Will people show up? Will vendors show up? Stay tuned for the next and final installment of Bri’s adventures in forming a winter farmers’ market!

Photo Credit: Tomiko Peirano