by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — There is nothing like a warm season Saturday in Montpelier to bring out conviviality and adventurous tastebuds. Adding to the ambience, and opening outdoors on May 6, comes the annual colorful, musical and aromatic farmers market on State Street, with some new features on display this year.
Ashton Kirol, now in his second year as manager of the Capital City Farmers Market, said outdoor food and craft demonstrations are expected. Restaurants, such as those run by New England Culinary Institute, as well as many others, are planning to prepare food on-site using vendor-supplied edibles such as fruits, vegetables and meats.
“We are reaching out to some of the Montpelier restaurants to have people come in,” Kirol said. “We are also going to be doing vendor demonstrations. Some potters will do clay demonstrations, there will be cooking demonstrations with vendors, plus wool spinning and different vendor skills and things they have to offer throughout the season.”
Shoppers can also expect to see some new faces in the produce category, while some familiar ones will be taking a much-deserved break.
For example, Ellie’s Farm Market of Northfield is taking a year off, as is Highland Gardens of Middlesex.“Those are two of our longstanding anchor vendors,” Kirol said. Filling their shoes will be Bare Roots Farm of the winter market in Barre, Ananda Gardens of Montpelier and Fusda Farm out of Craftsbury. In addition, Owl Hill Farm will return and occupy an expanded space.
“There are 50 vendors per week, with probably 80 individual vendors overall. We have some rotating spots,” Kirol said, adding that last year’s sales were consistent to the year before.
This year Kirol said the Farmers Market will also have more woodworkers, including Vermont Custom (homemade wooden coffins); Chestnut Woodworks (wooden utensils) and Jeffrey Ott (hardwood cutting boards).
A music lineup will start the fourth Saturday in May and kick off 20 weeks of music. The outdoor market runs May through October.
Q & A Between Capital City Farmers Market and The Bridge:
The Bridge: What do you think it shows that the farmers market has been around for 40 years?
Ashton Kirol: It shows how important local food is to the community. Even as local food becomes more accessible through other channels, the market maintains a large base of weekly shoppers.
Last year the market supported over 80 local farms and businesses. It also supported nearly 1,700 acres of farmland and kept over $800,000 in the community. I think it also shows the importance of being able to connect directly with the farmers and producers. Every week I overhear customers asking growers how to prepare a new vegetable, or discussing production methods with our crafters.
The Bridge: How did last year go? What were the triumphs and challenges?
Kirol: Last year went really well, but came with a few changes. Carolyn Grodinsky, manager for six years, left the market and I joined the market at the start of the outdoor season.
The Bridge: What are the new vendors/features this year?
Kirol: We have a new selection of craft vendors including Earth Rhythm Herbal, Middlesex; Cardblooms, Montpelier; Chestnut Woodworks, Middlesex; and Shaman’s Touch Apiary, Cabot.
The Bridge: Can anyone be a vendor? What is the criteria?
Kirol: We are a producer-only market, which means that each vendor must grow or make the products they sell. Business owners must also be the ones selling at the market for most of the year. Our market is stronger because this fosters a strong connection with the community. Shoppers can get to know the vendors personally, and ask them questions about their products.
To stay local, we look for vendors from Washington County and surrounding counties.
The Bridge: Are there any vendors who have been with the market for 40 straight years?
Kirol: LePage Farm and Ellie’s Farm Market are both founding members that are still with the market. Ellie’s is one of the vendors taking a sabbatical this summer.
The Bridge: What do you hope to see in the future?
Kirol: One of the priorities of the market is to ensure local food access to everyone in the community. Shoppers that receive 3SquaresVT (SNAP) benefits can use them at the market, and they can receive matching funds (up to $10) through a NOFA Vermont program each week to purchase additional fruits and vegetables. We are working hard to grow awareness of these programs.