By Michelle Edelbaum
Hannah Marshall, 11, is the youngest vendor at the Richmond Farmers’ Market, but what she lacks in age she makes up for in popularity.
On Friday afternoon there was a steady line of thirsty customers at the lemonade stand she runs with her brother Nick, 13. Hannah, wearing a pink T-shirt with the word “Chill” aptly emblazoned on the front, said the duo squeezes more than 75 cups of fresh lemonade on a sunny day.
The market, which doubled its revenue in the last two years, is abuzz with activity every Friday on sprawling Volunteers Green, said manager Carol Mader. When the market started 12 years ago, it was small and produce-focused. Today the market is packed with dozen of vendors and includes an afternoon and early evening of entertainment for the entire family, with musical performances and community events.
The market is a treat for the senses, too. The scent of ripe summer fruits and vegetables mix with delicious odors from prepared ethnic foods like samosas and egg rolls, tempting those who come with an empty stomach.
The colorful selection of artists’ wares includes hand-dyed textiles, hand-painted pottery and dried flower bouquets. Squeals and screams from the adjacent playground intermittently punctuate market talk about weather and recipes.
Parents like Shelly Underwood of Huntington bring their children to the market to play, meet friends, and to enjoy entertainment like Cranky Yankee’s Twyne rope-making demonstration.
The market is now so popular and the space so congested, that Mader is considering moving it to a larger location next year, which would ideally provide more space for vendors and parking. The small lot is always full on Fridays, and not just with Richmond residents.
The market draws residents from nearby towns such as Williston and Huntington. It also attracts visitors from other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, said Sonia Rivadeneira of Sonia’s Salsa, who sends her mild and medium-hot green tomatillo salsa to customers in those states.
With a waiting list for vendor space, Mader said she easily fills the market’s 20 spots every week. Many vendors have come to the market for years.
For example, Ted Sargeant, 78, of Still At It Farm, helped found the market and watched it grow.
“I think it’s a lot better we have entertainment every week. It draws people sort of like a festival,” Sargeant said. “It seems like every Friday afternoon we get a good turnout of local people here.”
Sargeant sells maple cream, his wife Joan’s homemade banana, zucchini and pumpkin breads, and organic vegetables from his Huntington farm.
The yellow cherry tomatoes, globular lemon cucumbers and purple and white speckled shelling beans are displayed attractively at his stand alongside green spinach and maroon beets. Sargeant judiciously sprays the vegetables with water so they don’t wilt during the hot afternoons. His generous samples of unusual produce, along with cooking suggestions, draw loyal customers and newcomers to his corner table all afternoon.
A few stands down, magenta and blue scarves stream from the umbrella that shades Jenny Hermenze’s table, laden with white, tangerine and indigo-colored T-shirts. Hermenze owns Bridge Street Dyeworks and has sold her vibrant Japanese stencil-dyed fabrics and clothing at the market for three years.
“It’s a really good outlet for my work,” said Hermenze. “I find it more worthwhile than the big craft shows because people get to know me and I get people who see something one week and by the next week they’ve decided to buy it.”
Hermenze, unlike some vendors, does not exhibit her goods at other farmers’ markets.
Alan Jones, president of the Richmond Area Business Association, said the Richmond market is an important venue for the more than 350 businesses in the town, many of which are home-based artisans, crafters and cooks.
“Part of the fabric of Richmond is the Farmers’ Market itself,” said Jones. “It is a staple business that we have. It draws people from fringe towns. Does it also help Main Street businesses? Yes.”
Craig Colburn of Richmond Beverage is one business owner who benefits from the market. Colburn said that he sees an influx in customers each Friday afternoon, which he attributes to the Richmond Farmers’ Market.
“People will go get greens and other things for dinner and then come in to get a bottle of wine to go with dinner,” Colburn said.
The market brings more than just business and visitors to Richmond, it cultivates a stronger town identity too, residents said.
“It’s a sense of community,” said Lynne Gavin of Richmond, who sells her handmade soaps and body care products at the market.
Gavin said that Richmond’s market has become a place to get together with family and friends.
“People can get together and talk and socialize, listen to music and buy produce, “ she said.
Heather Cristol of Richmond, who comes to the market most weeks with her two young children, agrees.
“All of the events at the green are what create a sense of community,” she said. “You see the same people and it’s a gathering spot.”
The Richmond Farmers’ Market takes place from 3-6:30 p.m. each Friday through Oct. 14 at Volunteer’s Green on Bridge Street in Richmond. For more information, call Mader at 434-5273.