The main crops from Rhode Island farms are still growing in the fields, but that isn’t stopping area food shoppers from taking advantage of farmers markets as a way to buy fresh, local products.
Some of the markets in the area, such as the Burrillville Farmers Market at the Stillwater Mill Center, have opened and are selling plants for the home gardens or staples such as garden greens, honey, jellies, jams and baked goods. Others like North Smithfield’s Farmers Market, held in conjunction with the town’s Concert on the Common series on Sunday evenings, will be starting up soon.
Deb Yablonski, the manager of the Burrillville Farmers Market and a farmer herself, said last week’s opening was a surprising success despite the slow spring this year.
“People were pleasantly surprised because it was still early in the season,” she said.
The slow start to the growing season this year was highlighted by two frost alerts this week and the added work farmers had to do to shelter temperature-sensitive seedlings and already-started vegetables.
Although the first ears of sweet corn aren’t likely to hit farmers markets until mid to late July, and the first tomatoes around early July depending on the innovative growing techniques involved, Yablonski said there are still plenty of fresh, locally-grown products to sample at the markets even now.
“We have salad greens, kale, and collard greens, and vegetable, herb and flower seedlings,” she said.
The market also has vendors selling baked goods, goat’s milk soap, honey, fresh eggs, craft items and the new hot food item, micro-greens that are just sprouted plants to eat.
More farm vendors will be added each week as their various specialty crops come in.
The Burrillville Farmers Market operates from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays under the Pavilion the town’s economic development agency put up at the Stillwater Mill with the help of grant funding. The market had started out in 2007 on the Town Common at East Avenue and Main Street, Harrisville, and has continued to grow, offering new vendors and regular entertainment since moving to the pavilion near the Jesse M. Smith Public Library.
Farmers markets offer an important way for full-fledged farms to make connections with buyers, whether as an opportunity to sell products at the market, or simply get the word out about what a farm has to offer when people are looking to find a certain food item.
Yablonski operates Stonehenge Farm on her property off Moroney Road in Pascoag and grows garden items and also the fresh ingredients she uses for her line of baked goods for sale at the markets.
The markets that now operate in increasing numbers around the state are helping farmers like Yablonski stay in the game and see a return on their investments.
“Farming is a multi-faceted thing to most of us,” she said.
Local farmers typically operate small farms that use the land for a variety of products, whether that is growing crops or raising livestock such as goats, chickens and cattle. Most also have another full-time or part-time job to help make ends meet, according to Yablonski. That requires the farmers to pick a specialty and refine the opportunities to sell their products either through a collaborative like Farm Fresh Rhode Island or the networks of farmers markets and their patron consumers.
“We grow for the market,” she said. “The vendors we have are serious for-the-market growers,” she said.
The markets can range in size from a dozen vendors or less to larger layouts such as the markets now offered at locations in Providence and South County.
Some markets are offered as part of a regular community event like North Smithfield’s Concerts on the Common on Sunday evenings or the French Farmers Market held during the Northern R.I. Council of the Arts French Heritage Festival in River Island Park, Woonsocket, in September.
The North Smithfield Farmers Market is looking to open its season on July 14, weather permitting, according to Malinda Howard, assistant to Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton.
“We are starting a little later this year because we had such a late spring,” Howard said.
Like other markets, the North Smithfield vendor offerings change with the season as different farm products and artesian and craft items become available.
“We get corn, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic and onions and even herbs and essential oils,” she said. One vendor came last year to sell homemade dog treats, she noted. The market also saw the ever popular local dairy farm, Wright’s Farm, and Celestial Offerings local honey apiary put booths there last year.
“It varies; that is the one constant because we don’t lock vendors in for a whole season,” Howard said.
Some vendors might come for several markets to sell products like local honey, or just-started plants, and others sign up when a big crop comes in like corn or tomatoes.
The market also has jewelry and craftsmen booths like the woodworker who offered cutting boards and other wooden kitchen implements last season, she noted.
The fact that the market is held in conjunction with the Concert on the Common series helps keep its customer traffic high.
“The concerts draw anywhere from 250 to 400 people,” Howard said. The concerts and the market are likely to go on under overcast skies but rain can break up the party if it arrives once the event begins.
“A couple of times last year we all ran for our cars,” she said of the ever-changing New England weather.
The North Smithfield Farmers Market is still taking applications for vendors. Howard can be reached at 401-767-2200 extension 301, or contacted through the town’s website, nsmithfieldri.org.
Some of the state’s farmers markets serve urban areas like Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Providence, and provide venues for organizations like the New Urban Farmers in Pawtucket to bring healthy food opportunities to low income urban families who might otherwise have access to less healthy food choices. The New Urban Farmers participate in the Pawtucket/Slater Park Farmers Market starting June 16 and running from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the park off Armistice Boulevard.