For South Hero resident Nicole Vaughan, going to the Wednesday market with her family is a weekly highlight. It’s a place where her daughters can play; she can visit with friends; and she can pick up staples like eggs, greens, bread and cheese to feed her family. What makes the market special to her and many others is the direct connection it creates between farmers and the community. As she puts it, “we support our farming neighbors by shopping at the market, and their food feeds and supports our family in return. This reciprocity is what keeps our community strong!”
While there have been farms in the Islands for generations, before 2005 it was hard to find fresh local food in the South Hero and Grand Isle. The few farm stands that existed were small and farms relied primarily on wholesale markets. Island residents and visitors didn’t have good ways to connect to local farms or pick up food grown by their neighbors. At the same time, the community recognized that places to gather, and to celebrate food and community, were few and far between. But then a group of dedicated farmers and community leaders came up with an idea to solve both of these problems. A small farmers’ market had been operating in Alburgh for a couple of years, and they decided to work with South Hero Land Trust to bring a farmers’ market to South Hero. From an ad-hoc market by the town garage led by volunteers to a successful nonprofit organization with two locations and a growing list of vendors, the market has come a long way. Christine Bourque of Blue Heron Farm was instrumental to this process, serving as the new Champlain Islands Farmers’ Market’s board chair for many years.
Christine Mack, owner and chef at Cook Sisters Cafe, shops at the market for herself and connects with farmers about wholesale purchases for the cafe. “The market brings back that small town feel, that place where you bump into people. You can get all kinds of the freshest produce straight from farmers for a great price; it’s hard to beat that.”
For Amanda & Hugo of Savage Gardens, the growth of the market over the years has mirrored their growth as a farm business. “The market is a significant part of our sales. And beyond raw numbers, the market is where we meet people, make connections, and get our name out there.”
Amanda and Hugo also feel that the market gives them a chance to give back to their community. “Our market prices are competitive with grocery stores. We have to make a living as farmers, but we also want to feed our community.” The market board also recognizes the importance of welcoming community members of all income levels to the market, and they accept 3SquaresVT (food stamp) dollars, have a strong Farm to Family Program (for WIC participants), and make other efforts to help everyone get fresh vegetables and fruits at a price they can afford. This year the market is partnering with C.I.D.E.R to provide a shuttle service for those who need transportation to the market.
For Cindy Walcott, artisan and farmers’ market board member, the market is not only the main outlet for her business, it provides a sense of community. “When my children entered high school off-island, I began to feel disconnected from our community. Participating in the market makes me feel more connected.”
The farmers’ market gives farmers a sense of community too. As farmer Colleen Cobb of Canamak Farms says, “I love the farmers’ market because it’s helped me get to know the other farmers in the Islands. Before the market we didn’t have an easy way to get to know each other. We love to barter our products with other farmers who produce things we don’t.”
For residents, visitors, vendors, farmers and businesses alike, the farmers’ market has become woven into the fabric of this community. As Christine Mack says, the market helps connect different kinds of people. The summer residents get to know the year-round folks and feel like they are part of the community.” From its humble beginnings it has grown into a gathering place where farmers and craftspeople can connect with customers and grow their businesses, where everyone is welcome and where all can come together to celebrate food, community, and friendships.
Amanda and Hugo Gervais love bringing their kids to the market with them. “Our kids have grown up at the market. They have their market-friends, and they get to sell their crafts and be young entrepreneurs.” The market hosts special activities for children, like the popular “Kids’ Market” and art activities with South Hero Land Trust. Families come for a meal together after a swim at the beach. Everyone finds fresh vegetables, eggs, and meats; yummy desserts and breads; and unique crafts found nowhere else.
Now, as spring draws nearer, the sap is flowing, greenhouses are vibrant with seedlings, berry bushes are starting to bud out, and artisans are working on their next project. Before long the market will be back! We hope you can make time this year to visit the market and enjoy all it has to offer. As Nicole Vaughan says, the market is a symbol of what a good community we live in here. “We love living here. People here will do anything to help out anybody, and nowhere is that spirit more true than the farmers’ market. We think the market is a gift.”