June 24, 2019

What happened to the Farmers’ Market?

farmers-market

Observer photos by Jess Wisloski
Adams Farm Market, 986 Old Stage Rd.

DSC_0756

Observer phtos by Jess Wisloski
Foley Fontaine Farm Stand, 2660 North Williston Rd.

Observer photo by Jess Wisloski Scratch N’ Earth Farm, 3267 Oak Hill Rd.

Observer photo by Jess Wisloski
Scratch N’ Earth Farm, 3267 Oak Hill Rd.

Red Barn Gardens, 8939 Williston Rd.

Red Barn Gardens, 8939 Williston Rd.

By Jess Wisloski

Observer staff

For nine years, the Williston area has seen various takes on the artisans/farmers’ market come and go.

Now, with more and more regional markets, and a growing variety of fresh items at local stores, Williston enters its first summer without its own farmers’ market.

In a recent conversation with the Observer, Pete Yandow, owner of Essex Agway, threw his hat in the ring as a host site for one, after reading about the new manager at the Five Corners Farmers’ Market. He felt there was a need to re-establish one for Willistonians.

But with a six- to eight-month permitting process for approving such a market, according to Planning and Zoning, and a gradually dwindling customer base, the question is, does local support for a farmers’ market still exist? Will it matter to locals if there’s no Williston farmers’ market?

Some of the regular farmers think the moment for the market may have passed.

“I think it would be wonderful if we had a farmers’ market, but the area’s very saturated right now,” said Lisa Boutin, a longtime vendor at the local greenmarket. “There’s a market [now] in every town.”

Yandow’s vision came to him this year after it became clear that Catamount Outdoor Family Center would not be hosting another market, after taking on the cause last-minute in 2015.

Owner Jim McCullough and the board of directors agreed mid-summer to organize one at the center on Wednesdays, calling it “a community service to the town” and seeking to fill the void left previously. But early vendors were only listed as two bakeries, a brewery and a maple sugar farm.

At Essex Agway, where Yandow says he has plenty of room to host several booths or tents and maybe a dozen or more stands, he would hope to see a return to more agricultural offerings for last-minute shoppers or those wanting to supplement grocery runs with locally produced foods.

“I was thinking a food market. [At Five Corners] it’s gotten away from the foods and vegetables and more towards the food restaurant style,” he said. “I’m seeing more vegetable farmers,” especially smaller producers, he said, that might have different offerings week over week. “The guy that sells jams and jellies, the one that sells maple syrup, the local stuff, like if you want to shop locally. That’s the kind of vendors we’ll get on board. Ideally it would take place later in the week,” he said.

However, Boutin, who didn’t sell her produce at the Catamount market in 2015, said it would be hard to drum up sellers and customers in the latest efforts, especially without a market manager — an ongoing problem that has plagued efforts to revive a Williston farmers’ market — and it may just keep failing.

Observer file photo An archived photo of the Williston Farmers’ Market in 2010.

Observer file photo
An archived photo of the Williston Farmers’ Market in 2010.

“There’s other things going on,” said Boutin, pointing out that her efforts to sell one or two days a week at a larger market far outweighed the foot traffic at various Williston locations in recent years. “The vendors are there to make money and the customers are there to shop and visit and socialize,” she said. “It was a nice community thing, but then it started dwindling. The last few years it was like, ‘Why are we here? We’re not making enough to pay for the gas to get there,’” she noted. “And I live in Williston.”

The market first opened in 2007, held Saturday mornings on the town green in Williston’s historic village. It was a huge success at first, Boutin said. In 2012, organizers switched the market to Wednesdays to avoid the mid-summer drop in attendance, one that was compounded by the increasing popularity of the Burlington Farmers’ Market. “It was very big and had a lot of community support over the years, but then it slowly declined. And we didn’t see a lot of community members coming out to support it,” said Boutin.

In 2013, the market moved to the green space next to New England Federal Credit Union in Taft Corners. That was also the last year it had a regular market manager, Becca Rimmel. The midweek shift “didn’t really seem to work out,” Boutin recalled. The market continued through 2014 and was set to close in 2015 until McCullough revived it..

She said getting vendors back on board after the past few years would be tough. “I think it’s going to be a hard sell…in Williston.” Like other locally based producers, she’s going to sell her products starting in July from a farmstand on her property.

McCullough was unable to be reached for comment on why he felt the market did not succeed in 2015 at Catamount, or the merit of renewing this summer.

And while Yandow was eager to start one up again on his property, Ken Belliveau at Planning and Zoning said a discretionary permit would need to be issued adding, “but it might not even be possible on that property. There’s a lot of issues there right now that are problematic,” among them, a road widening being planned and land purchases for a Circ Alternative route in the works by VTrans.

“Maybe after summer,” said Yandow, “or if we could go for next year, maybe we can rethink it maybe in the fall for next year.”

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