MICHAeL BORENSTEIN/THE MIDDLEBURY CAMPUS
MIDDLEBURY – The Middlebury Farmers’ Market (MFM), currently located at the Middlebury Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7823 at 530 Exchange St., hopes to continue to attract shoppers despite road work and location changes.
The market resided at the Marble Works Shopping Complex for 10 years before moving to its current home in 2017 due to concerns about the preservation of newly greenscaped areas next to Otter Creek. While the farmers’ market is not actively looking for a new location, Hannah Sessions, owner of Blue Ridge Farms and an MFM board member, believes that this location could provide optimal conditions for the market. She told The Campus that Marble Works “is a wonderful location for a market, as it met all of our requirements and was walkable to downtown and the college.”
And yet, Sessions acknowledged that the Exchange Street location has been suitable because of its parking spaces, access to bathrooms and convenience for vendors and shoppers. A new sidewalk for the lot is to be completed in 2019, and the farmers’ market is looking into coordinating a shuttle to the location. The use of an indoor space in the same area allows the farmers’ market to open on most Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. from December to April.
Despite the use of an indoor market, vendor participation has been declining, mainly due to competition from cooperatives and the Community-Supported Agriculture system in Vermont. This could prompt a move in the future. In the meantime, the farmers’ market in Middlebury has several plans to try to combat this decline, including keeping table fees affordable and working on successful promotion of the market. Sessions also explained that they are considering amending their “brick-and-mortar rule,” which discourages businesses with retail locations from selling at the market. There is also a discount rate for businesses who sell at every market, and using shorter hours than other markets allows for vendors to have the afternoon free.
“It was fun all summer to hear the various languages from the Language Schools,” Sessions explained, “and in the fall we saw a lot of students and families filter through.”
She also noted that in the Marble Works location, the tents were easily visible from the Main Street Bridge and were accessible from the Frog Hollow Mill area. Using a grant from the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, the farmers’ market conducted a survey and found that many vendors who commented on location preferred a spot downtown.
Several locations may be considered in the future, including Triangle Park, College Park (across from Shafer’s), and the area outside of Twilight Hall. When asked about College Park, Vice President for Communications Bill Burger said that the college was open to talks about using the space, but claimed that “the park presents certain challenges as a location” and that “the community should find a location that best meets the needs of the market, the vendors and the community members who shop there.”
Sessions listed criteria for a potential location that must be taken into account, including “flat, ample space for our vendors (each needing a 10’ x 10’ space, a few larger vendors 10’ x 20’)” and “flat and walkable space for our customers (15’ minimum walking aisle).” Other considerations include space for parking, electricity access for a band and for vendors, and the ability for certain vendors to work out of their vehicles. Several proposed locations may struggle to meet these requirements. The town of Middlebury is working on a renovation of Triangle Park that may include features making it more conducive to the farmers’ market.
Sessions emphasized the importance of a farmers’ market to the town of Middlebury. Currently, MFM has over 50 vendors and meets on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer in addition to their winter market. Products include vegetables, meats, flowers and dairy products, in addition to jewelry, artwork and other crafts.
“The thing about farmers’ markets that I feel passionate about is that they truly are small-business incubators,” Sessions said. Farmers’ markets provide valuable business experiences, jump-starting initial revenue streams. This retail and cash flow makes it easier for fledgling businesses to apply for loans, allowing local businesses to grow.
Middlebury student Hannah Gellert ’21 echoed Sessions’ statement, claiming that “farmers’ markets are great for supporting local communities” and are “an integral part of bolstering local food production.” When asked if Gellert would attend the market more often if it was in a downtown location, she said, “Yes, one hundred percent. It is the main reason why I don’t visit it every time.”