Dec 31, 2012
New Hampshire farmers’ market moving in the right direction

For the past 16 years, farmers in the small town of Keene, N.H., have been providing fruit and produce at The Farmers’ Market of Keene, as it puts on both a summer and winter market.

In the summer, as many as 50 vendors are on hand, and in the winter, close to 30. The market has become well regarded in the community.

“We focus on farm products and have several produce vendors, fruit growers, meat and dairy producers and a few folks selling baked goods and crafts,” said Bill Fosher, the co-coordinator of the Keene farmers’ market.

Fosher was a customer of the market for a decade before coming on board as a vendor last year, and joined Bruce Bickford and Marcia Winters as co-coordinators soon after.

“There were big changes in the market over those 10 years. It’s grown quit a bit, both in terms of the number of vendors and the number of customers and the types of things available,” Fosher said. “When I first started going to the market, a big day would have been seven or eight vendors, and it would have been primarily produce.”

Over that time, he believes, both new vendors and existing vendors have gotten a lot better at production and marketing, and the market not only has better products in it, but they are presented more professionally.

“It’s a direction we like to see it moving in,” Fosher said. “The market is a cooperative and every member has a vote, but the three coordinators handle implementing what the market decides to do.”

That means handling the day-to-day running of things, permitting with the city of Keene, working out locations for the winter market and doing whatever has to be done to get it to happen – all on a volunteer basis.

“We are a producer-only market, so all people are only selling what they produce,” he said. “In addition, to be eligible for membership, the farm or business has to be located in our county or an adjacent county. We’re not bringing in products from the other side of the state. We’re sticking strictly with local products and businesses to keep the money circulating in the economy the best we can.”

The market doesn’t have any support from an outside organization, nonprofit or government underwriting, so it’s entirely member-run and member-funded.

Anthony Levick of Monadnock Berries has been farming in the area since 1996, when he came to the United States from London. He started selling in the market the next season.

“In those days, Keene farmers’ market was very small, and so was I,” he said. “Back then, I only grew blueberries and raspberries. Now, I bring a whole range of fruit, with my best seller being peaches.”

But Levick also brings plums, nectarines, strawberries, black raspberries, black and red currants, grapes, tomatoes and also some flowers that he grows in the spring.

“The market has grown considerably over the last five or six years, as the number of vendors have gone up,” Levick said. “Now, there’s more of a selection with cheese and meats and wine and different items.”

Levick believes that the success will continue, as customers are known to return week in and week out and all the vendors are top-notch with their selections.

“In the town of Keene, there is a strong band of people, and even in the surrounding area, who feel as if they should buy local,” Levick said. “The market is very busy, and it’s definitely one of my favorites in the area.”

Patti Powers, owner of the small family farm Cheshire Garden, has been a part of the Keene market since 2008, selling preserves, mustards and vinegars made from her own fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.

“There’s strong support for local agriculture in the Monadnock region, and the best cooks in town shop at the farmers’ market,” she said. “There’s no better customer pool than people who care about good ingredients.”

Bruce and Joanne Smith of High Hopes Farm in West Moreland began coming to the Keene market in 2006 to sell raspberries, blueberries and apples.

Winter farmers’ markets are held on the second and fourth Saturday of each month at the Colony Mill Marketplace in Keene.

“The market is good because we get retail rather than wholesale prices,” Joanne Smith said. “We have a following of many regulars that show up every week.”

For the 2012 season, the Keene market partnered with the Monadnock Farm and Community Connections program to make it easier for people to purchase produce through a food assistance program.

“We started accepting EBT cards a year ago, and at that point it was strictly face value,” Fosher said. “This year, for the winter market, the Markem-Imaje of Keene is providing matching funds to give those people an extra $10 to spend at the market.”

To claim their matching funds, food stamp customers must swipe their EBT cards for whatever amount they wish to spend at the market, and the market matches the first $10 of the amount swiped.

“The philosophy behind it is that most of the members feel that we would really like to try to have our market be accessible to as many members of the community as possible, and that includes people on low and moderate incomes,” he said. “We’re hoping to have additional funding to continue this program, if we can demonstrate that there’s interest in the program and attract larger pools of money to continue it in the future.”

That has led to an uptick in the market of people using their benefits to buy locally grown food, helping to overcome the perception that a farmers’ market is expensive and helping a sector of the community become involved in the local food system, he said.

By Keith Loria, FGN Correspondent

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