Farmers market is super: Fresh from fields to fresh off presses
Published 5:23 pm, Tuesday, July 6, 2010
As my husband was getting ready to leave for work Thursday morning, he asked me if I was going to the store because he needed more honey for his morning oatmeal. I didn't plan on shopping, but lucky for him, I found "Andrew's Honey" at the Westport Farmers Market.
Every Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Imperial Avenue commuter parking lot, between 1,000 to 1,500 people visit the market. Vendors sell everything from fruits and vegetables to beans, spices, yogurt and meat.
But it's more than just a chance to stock up on groceries. There are entertainment and educational factors as well. Each week a non-profit organization sets up a booth, a kids' area offers activities from drawing to yoga, and one new restaurant cooks up fresh lunches.
In addition, Lori Cochran Dougall, who manages the market, tries to find local authors who write about food.
On Thursday, for instance, Fairfield resident Michel Nischan was on hand to sign copies of his new book, Sustainably Delicious: Making the World a Better Place One Recipe at a Time. Nischan, the chef and co-founder of the Dressing Room restaurant in Westport, is also the president/CEO of Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization that looks for ways to make fresh, healthy, local foods affordable to all.
The core program of Wholesome Wave is its "Double Value Coupon Program," which doubles the value of federal food stamps when used at participating farmers markets nationwide.
"The program began in 2008 in three states at 12 participating farmers markets," said Nischan, who also happened to be on camera Thursday for a segment being taped for NBC. Now, two years later, the program has blossomed to include 18 states and 160 markets. In addition, "Wholesome Wave was named as a strategy group in the `White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President,' " said Nischan.
While the farmers market in affluent Westport doesn't have many attendees using the "Double Value Coupon Program," other markets in Bridgeport and New Haven have had great success with the program. "We thought we might have to bring an educational component to the markets," said Nischan, "but people come in droves. They tell us, `Don't worry, we know what to do with [these ingredients]."
Westport residents Mary and Jerry Gristina stopped by Nischan's booth to chat and have him sign a copy of his book. "We've known about him since he started the Dressing Room," said Mary.
"The food stamp issue is incredibly important," said Jerry.
On this sunny, mild summer day, people of all ages strolled through the market with bags filled with all sorts of ingredients for dinner. Greens were abundant, as were berries and herbs. Fresh breads, homemade yogurt, herbal teas, dog food and even chicken coops (complete with chickens) were offered for sale.
"Our goal is that you don't have to go to a large grocery store," said Dougall. "You can get milk, eggs, honey, everything you need for meals for seven days."
But lest all that shopping makes you hungry, there are plenty of options for lunch at the market. "One new thing is the wood-fired pizza," said Dougall. "The chef travels from stand to stand to get ingredients and then he makes a featured market pizza with those ingredients." The latest pizzas were bacon, cheese and arugula or sausage, fennel and cheese.
Or, for those looking for something a little more exotic, Boxcar Cantina makes fresh chicken, pork or bean tamales and homemade guacamole. A few stands down, organic salads made with beans and grains were selling like hotcakes.
"We have tons of people from area businesses that are coming here for lunch," said Dougall. "We have firemen and policemen. It's not just moms."
And, of course, there are the desserts. Cookies, bars, chocolates and pies all made from scratch. Rebecca Howe, a volunteer at the market, raved about the granola bars from a company called "Nothing But" based in Westport.
"I bought one for my daughter last week and she looked at it like, ew, that's healthy," said Howe. "The next thing you know, she texted me saying, `It's the best thing I've ever tasted. Buy me a dozen.' "
For frequent visitors, there is a "Friends of the Market" program. For $25, the "Friends" get a pin which entitles them to discounts and freebies at every stand.
As for me, I left with honey for my husband, a granola bar for my son and a hot pork tamale for my lunch. It beats shopping at the grocery store any day.
The Westport Farmers' Market takes place every Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., through Nov. 18 at the Imperial Avenue parking lot (adjacent to the Woman's Club). For more information, visit www.westportfarmersmarket.com.