PAWTUCKET — Fans and supporters of fresh and organic farm-to-table produce, seafood and other edible items now have two days a week to shop. The popular Farm Fresh RI Wintertime Farmers' Market is now open on Wednesday evenings as well as Saturday mornings in the Hope Artiste Village at 1005 Main St.
Now in its fourth year, the Wintertime Farmers' Market has definitely found its niche, drawing bustling crowds every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The shoppers, typically a mix of young singles to parents with children in tow, bring a welcome vibrancy to the vast hallways of the historic mill complex as 60 vendors display everything from locally grown fruits and vegetables, eggs, meats and shellfish to baked goods, dairy products, coffee, and even natural soaps and cosmetics. At this season, there is also a selection of live wreaths and other holiday greenery for use as decorations.
New this year is the Wednesday market with hours from 4 to 7 p.m. While the crowds are much thinner than on Saturdays, the Wednesday evening event is catching on, with some shoppers saying they prefer the more relaxed atmosphere. There are 30 vendors, some who also participate on Saturdays as well as those who are new and just do the Wednesday schedule.
Both Wintertime Farmers' Markets will run from now through May (excluding Saturday, Dec. 25). Customers may use cash, checks, credit/debit cards and EBT/Food Stamps at the market. Those wanting to use a credit card or EBT card can purchase Fresh Bucks—Farmers' Market tokens—at the Farm Fresh RI table. Fresh Bucks can also be purchased in the form of a gift certificate.
On a recent Wednesday night, a steady stream of shoppers arrived at the Farmers' Market, despite the pouring rain outside. People could be seen carrying everything from bags brimming with fruits and vegetables to Christmas wreaths.
For vendors such as Hill Orchards of Smithfield, the Wintertime Farmers Market provides a way to extend the selling season for their apples and related food products such as apple cider and apple butter. Tom Howard, who was manning the booth for Hill Orchards, said “The Farmers Markets work very well for us.” He added that the orchard also participates each year in the Summertime Farmers' Market that is held outdoors near Exchange Street and Broadway.
Alan Tracey, buying some apples from the Hill Orchards booth, said he lives in Lincoln but works in Providence, so he drives by the Hope Artiste Village every day. “I want to support these guys,” he said, nodding at Howard.
Tracey asked Howard how far he has to drive to deliver the apples and he replied “about 15 miles.” He noted that, by comparison, how easy it was for him to stop in and take advantage of the fresh bounty offered by a small local grower. “A lot of farms are growing on economy of scale. I am concerned that they are not taking care of the food like those who do it locally,” he stated.
Allison Brodsky, who lives on Providence's East Side, also said that she and her husband like to support local farms and buy locally grown food as much as possible. “We come every week, and we buy most of our groceries here,” she said. She added that she likes that the fruits and vegetables are organically grown and free of pesticides, and the meats do not contain growth hormones.
As her two-year-old daughter, Sloane, happily chomped on an apple nearby, Brodsky said, “and she likes to come here each week and pick out her own apple.”
Chris Clarendon, the owner of Seapowet Shellfish, just started selling his fresh Eastern oysters at the Wednesday night Farmers' Market last month. He was offering customer Catherine Houle a chance to taste the oysters, which come from the lower Sakonnet River, explaining that they have an appealing smoky and salty flavor as compared to other types. Houle agreed, saying the flavors were “a perfect combination, with taste that was salty, but not too much.”
Now living in Tiverton and selling largely in the Westport, Mass. area, Clarendon said he previously resided in Pawtucket for about 15 years, so the Farmers Market in the Hope Artiste Village was a natural fit. “It's fun. I've seen a lot of people who I know from Pawtucket,” he said.
Clarendon added that he would like to become a vendor at the Saturday Farmers' Market as well because of the larger crowds, but there is “another oyster guy” there already. Still, he said the market offers a way for him to promote his product, and he is happy to offer oyster shucking tips as well
Barbara McAuliffe, selling cheeses and cheese spreads for the Foxboro Cheese Company, said the local farmers' markets such as this one, held in both winter and summer, have provided a great way for the small company to get its name out and to attract customers.
McAuliffe said that Lawton's Dairy Farm, owned by Ed and Nancy Lawton, has been a working farm since the 1700s. Located behind Gillette Stadium, it was first a chicken farm and later a dairy farm, and the Foxboro Cheese Company is an offshoot. The Lawtons operate a small storefront at the farm, where they sell raw milk (prohibited in Rhode Island) and two types of cheeses: fromage blanc and asiago. “The farmers' markets work really well for us,” she stated.
Likewise, the market venue has proved lucrative for Donna Dunn, of North Kingstown, who has owned Rhode Island Spa Products for 10 years. She offers an extensive line of natural beauty products such as soaps, lotions, bath salts and massage oils made from local agricultural ingredients. Among her offerings this night were jars of whipped shea butter, lemongrass sea salt, goats milk lotion and a line of handmade soaps with clever names including a patchouli-scented one dubbed “The Dirty Hippy.”
“I have been doing farmers' markets as long as I have been in business,” said Dunn, who is headquartered out of a small retail boutique in The Mill at Shady Lea, an artists' complex in a renovated mill in North Kingstown. “I do up to six markets a week in the summer. They are great, because you can reach more people. It's a lot of work, but its worth it,” she said.
Karl Jacoby, his wife, Marie Lee and their son, Jason, are also frequent customers of the Farmers' Market at Hope Artiste Village. Jacoby said the family usually comes every Saturday to buy grocery items. They decided to check out the Wednesday market because of the chance to see some different vendors.
“We like getting to meet the various growers and talking about where the food comes from. It makes it really easy to consume local produce in a just way,”said Jacoby, as he looked over a vast array of organic vegetables from the Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton. “And the food is really delicious,” added Marie Lee.
Jacoby also commented that with the crush of people that attend on a typical Saturday, he was “kind of liking” the more laid-back shopping experience that the Wednesday night market offered.
Rosemary Jaworski, a former Rhode Island resident who now lives in San Diego, said she frequents the many farmers markets that are available to her in California, and is glad to see they are catching on here. She said she was visiting her daughter and had decided to accompany her to the Wednesday night market. “I'm so excited that they have this here. Anytime you can get farmers and produce to the people and have the growers here to tell you about it, it's wonderful. And the quality is fabulous,” she stated.
Out in the entryway, representatives from ecoRI.org, a news website dedicated to environmental issues, were promoting the benefits of composting. “We're trying to change people's attitudes about food to show that this stuff doesn't belong in the landfill. It should be going back into the earth to bring up the food cycle and keep it going,” said David Fisher, managing editor of ecoRI.org.
Fisher noted that ecoRI.org has collected some 300 pounds of food waste at the Farmers' Market and was also behind the recent turkey carcass composting effort that took place after Thanksgiving. He said that over 80 pounds of turkey carcasses were collected that were ground up for use as pig feed. This waste would have otherwise ended up in the Johnston landfill. He said another such event will be planned for Dec. 29 to collect the post-Christmas dinner turkey carcasses.