Market days return
It’s been 30 years since Woodstock held its first farmers market, but the recent growth of the market to a bi-weekly event throughout the Square was rapid, happeningin only the past five years or so.
This year, the number of vendors remains relatively steady at just more than 40 total. Keith Johnson, market manager and a vendor himself, said the similar size is a good thing.
“Nobody expected it to explode like [it did],” he said. “I do think we’re refining it; we’re fine tuning now.”
Johnson said the farmers market board has worked to balance the market.
“We don’t want to flood the market or cut back on [a product of high] customer demand,” he said.
If there are no local farmers who can supply a certain product, Johnson said they will look to find somebody more regional. For example, Roegers Bros. Blueberries was brought in from Michigan to participate in the market on Saturdays.
“I had heard from another vendor just how good the Woodstock market is,” said Janet Viverito of Roegers Bros. Although she had been selling only about 30 minutes, Viverito said she could already tell Woodstock had a special atmosphere. “I love it. It could absolutely be a movie set here.”
In addition to fine-tuning its vendor experience, the board continues searching for ways to enhance the customer experience.
Last year, the market saw its Link card and credit card sales increase dramatically to about $60,000. Though the use of Link (formerly food stamps) and credit card purchases had been offered since 2010, the programs took some time to gain traction. Johnson said people may have taken time to get comfortable with the system or to even know it existed.
“I haven’t talked to one person who doesn’t think [the Link Plus bonus program] is a great program,” Johnson said. Link card users may receive up to $15 in bonus tokens at each Woodstock Farmers Market when they use their card to buy food and food plants at the market. “We’ll continue to offer the program as long as we have the funding.”
Johnson said the growth of the market has allowed organizers to branch out to help the market become an event. He notes the addition of live music as one of the first ways the market accomplished this. Because there is a little more money available due to the market growth, the board has been able to invest some money into staffing to secure the entertainment.
“That would have fallen on its face had it not been for [entertainment coordinator] Don [Humbertson],” Johnson said, noting that prior to the growth of the market, he had been stretched thin because of various duties.
This year, Johnson said a publicity person has been added to help with the market’s website as well as promotions and social media.
“Basically, I first got involved with the Woodstock Farmers Market as a regular attendee,” said Heidi Maschmann, who was hired to the position. “This market [is special to me] because it’s producer only, meaning it’s the real thing.”
Maschmann said customers will likely see many activities and contests taking place throughout the year. At the most recent Saturday market, for example, a pie-eating contest was held featuring pies from M. Belles Pie and Bake Shop, a new vendor. Events such as a kids day and jazz day, as well as appearances by gardening and quilting experts, will take place throughout the year.
To keep current of Woodstock Farmers Market events, Maschmann said customers should check the market’s website, www.woodstockfarmersmarket.org, as well as follow the market’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Johnson said adding auxiliary board members to a strong board of voting members has improved the organization as well. Cindy Smiley serves as a liaison from the city of Woodstock, and Tammy Kise gives insight from a customer perspective.
Ultimately, the board understands the market works because of the vendors themselves.
“We couldn’t have this market if you guys weren’t participating,” Jan Sosinski, vice president of the board, told the vendors during opening ceremonies Saturday. “We’re happy to have you all here today.”
Andrew Mansour, owner of M. Belles Pie and Bake Shop, said the atmosphere and camaraderie the board has created makes it easy to be a vendor at the Woodstock Farmers Market.
“It immediately feels like you’re a part of a family here,” said Mansour, who participated in the winter market but is starting his first year in the main market. “There’s this welcoming support … they’re wonderful people.”
To Johnson, happy vendors mean a strong market. He said fostering an atmosphere where farmers want to participate only strengthens the product. Some farmers, he said, have even used special growing techniques to grow produce when it normally wouldn’t be available. For example, Johnson said he expects lettuce and spinach to be sold at the market from the start, rather than at the end of May as in years past.
“We’re getting a big jump this year,” he said.
Although the warm weather has been a big part of that jump, he warned that some fruits may be in jeopardy because of the early growth followed by freezes. That’s just the nature of farming, Johnson said. When one product flourishes, others suffer, and if there is such a thing as a perfect growing season, Johnson said he hasn’t seen it.
“Every farmer should have a pair of dice,” he said. “That’s all we do is throw dice. It’s a gamble.”