A look at how Westport Farmers Market sprouts each week
Published 4:44 pm, Wednesday, August 12, 2015
For David Seng, Thursday mornings mean a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Westport from his home in Point June, R.I.
Seng is a fresh fish vendor with Rhode Island-based, the Local Catch, one of the popular vendors regularly at the weekly Westport Farmers Market.
“I usually get here really early,” he said, starting set up of his stand at the Imperial Avenue market around 8:30 a.m. “So I have to leave really early to beat the traffic.”
“Fourth of July weekend it took like five hours to get back home, but it’s character building,” he joked.
Yet Seng and other vendors at the seasonal market find it worthwhile, for their spot in one of the state’s best-established farm markets offers an opportunity for good business and a good environment.
“It’s a really nice market,” said Paul Gallant of New Milford, who operates Paul’s Custom Pet Food, “and a really good turnout.”
“The thing about Westport that I find is people are really knowledgeable about what they want, even with their pet food, which is good for me,” he said.
Throughout the early morning, vendor after vendor arrives to put up their tented stalls and lay out their wares. Boxes of fresh fruit and crates of vegetables take their places on the fold-out tables, alongside herbs, baked breads, preserves and much more.
“It’s always a little bit like magic,” Lori Cochran-Dougall, executive director of the market, said of the weekly set-up. Vendors try to discern the pieces of tape on the pavement that connote their spots, but more often use a familiar tree or shrub as a marker. “Everybody kind of figures it out … And then, poof! You get a market!”
“This is our 10th year,” she said. “We have learned lots of lessons. We have learned that it takes three weeks to get settled,” each season, as well as the finesse required to work in tandem with the expansive Yankee Doodle Fair that arrives in the lot at the end of June.
“We’ve also learned to be patient and flexible,” Cochran-Dougall said. “But I’d say the biggest thing is we’ve really learned to work as a team.”
Among the 30 or so vendors, eight were among the originals that operated at the market’s start at the parking lot of the former Dressing Room restaurant on Powers Court. This year, only one new vendor met the stringent guidelines to be part of the market, which include certain requirements relating to local origins of their produce and more.
“This is my favorite,” said Elpidio Ramirez of Rose’s Berry Farm in South Glastonbury. “It’s big, and it’s nice people. We do more, but this is the best one.”
“I like this market a lot,” said Alyssa Sampognaro of Rose’s. “A lot of farmers’ markets are a lot smaller and this one gives you the opportunity to meet the farmers … It’s just a good environment.”
“We bring a lot of stuff, so we get here earlier just so we can be set up when everyone gets here at 10,” she said.
Rebecca Batchie of Fort Hill Farm in New Milford said the key to a successful day is the planning beforehand. “We try and organize it so it goes as smoothly as possible,” she said, beginning with filling the truck in such a way as to make everything accessible.
“I definitely want two breakfasts on a Thursday morning to handle all this stuff,” she said, toting box after box of produce.
Yet as much prepping as can be done, when the moment of truth comes it’s still as exciting as the opening night of a theatre production.
“I’ve been doing markets now for 20 years, but my belly still gets a little nervous,” said Laura McKinney, co-owner of Riverbank Farm in Roxbury.
“It’s the excitement,” she said. “To this day I still get the butterflies.”