Diversity is Key to Small, Rural Farmers Market

6/29/2013 7:00 AM
By Robin Follette Maine Correspondent

PRINCETON, Maine If you were coming here from a big city, you might drive past the Princeton Farmers Market. Sandwich board signs direct you from Route 1 to West Street, and just down West Street there’s another sandwich board pointing to the ball field. If you blink you could miss the row of eight vendors set up past the parking lot, right before the line of trees. This isn’t the typical farmers market filled with rows of vegetables, fruit, wood and artisanal food. Diversity is the key to success for this small but determined group.

Princeton Grange #293, revived by a small group of farmers and others interested in agriculture in Princeton and surrounding areas, sponsors this market.

Susan Storey and Keith Damon, partners in life and at Early Bird Farm, raise laying hens. This is their second year at the market. Storey keeps 30 hens at her house and Damon has the other 100 birds. In addition to eggs, they sold a few vegetables last year and will add more this year. “We do pretty well here and we also sell roadside,” Storey said. They also sell camp wood and night crawlers.

Wayne Roberts has been coming to the market since it opened three years ago. “I’m here just because they have good business. The people are good, the food is good, and everything is good.”

“I think he comes here to torment me under the pretense of buying vegetables,” Storey said, smiling. Roberts grinned.

Wayne Seidl and Joe Ruff of Phoenix Rising farm in nearby Waite have tables lined with seedlings for sale, mostly flowers. Seidl is the market manager. As the growing season progresses, they’ll offer vegetables. In early fall, their nine-week-old piglets will weigh in around 250 pounds. They’re taking orders now for quarter, half and whole pigs. They’ll also have chickens and turkeys later in the year. They’re at market for their farm and also as representatives of the Princeton Grange. As if they aren’t busy enough with the farm and Grange, Seidl and Ruff own and operate Waite General Store, and they do it with only one employee.

A new vendor approached Ruff and Seidl with her application. She’ll join the market next week, bringing the total of vendors up to nine.

Bert and Anna Ward have been growing seedlings for sale for about 30 years. This summer they’re accompanied by youngsters known as Cowboy’s Little Angels. The Little Angels are earning money to pay for a riding arena for Cowboy, the pony they ride.

The Garden Farm, owned by Veronica Moffitt, offers dense, heavy-stemmed tomato plants and a mix of herb, vegetable and flower seedlings. “Rub the leaves with your fingers,” Moffitt said as a customer sniffed a basil plant. She’s able to give tips and growing advice to her customers, and because she’s at market each week, she’s available to answer questions throughout the growing season.

Thyme to Paint’s owner, Sharon Norman, paints one-of-a-kind items using acrylics that appeal to the summer people. This is her second year at the market and she’s doing well. A sign in Norman’s display indicates she’s active in Friends of Princeton, and as our conversation carries on she talks about the train that imported and exported agricultural goods to and from Princeton. There used to be four dairy farms in town, but they’ve been gone for decades.

Al Mather is a wood turner who operates under the name Sonlight Creations. He makes bowls, rolling pins, biscuit cutters, ornaments and other wooden items using locally harvested wood as often as possible. Ninety-five percent of the wood for bowls is local. “Someone in town had to cut down an ash tree. He gave me some of the wood and I gave him something in return.” Mather’s wares are artisan quality. He sells products at five or six stores in the state as well as this market. This is a hobby turned small business he enjoys very much now that he’s retired.

Bobbi Mather, wife of Al, operates Sonlight Sewing. “I use mostly repurposed fabric left from the quilts I make, clothes we no longer wear and pieces I pick up at the thrift store.”

She has two tiny woolen sheep on the table. Everything else is one hundred percent useful and usable. She spends time looking for specific colors and shades so she can make matching kitchen sets. Her work is also artisan quality. She takes care as she’s stitching. This is something she clearly enjoys doing. Bobbi’s products aren’t something you’d normally see at a farmers market; they are a good indicator of the diversity this market needs and encourages.

Bob and Marge Chandler from Topsfield are at the market with their maple syrup. Marge opened a container of maple cream. “Try this,” she said. “It’s new; we bought the machine this year.” The cream is sweet and pure maple goodness. The Chandlers drive 20 miles to attend the market each week.

Beauregards Farms, owned by Terry Starks and Ken Moffitt is one of the bigger vegetable farms in the area. Their tables are full of radishes, green onions, beet greens and other greens. The conversation centers on what to do with radishes. “We’ve gone to raised beds for most everything. We have row crops for things like corn but for us, raised beds are the way to go.”

Rosa Mallory of Princeton joined in on the conversation. “I want good food and to support the local farmers.” Starks says she appreciates this and adds that the sense of community around the market is growing.

The folks at this market talk about how much they appreciate the summer people who come to the area, a point Seidl makes when talking about customers. “This is a hybrid market,” he said. “There’s nothing standard about it. We include crafts to encourage the local economic development. We don’t discourage vendors from other markets.” According to Seidl, the market needs more of everything, including variety. The growth has been slow but steady. Distance can be a problem for vendors, and at this time, everyone here is local. The total population for Princeton and nine surrounding towns is approximately 2,200. Vendors appreciate the support they get from the people who come to their summer homes or camps or pass through while camping.

“People here are realizing the value of the market. They’re educated consumers. Agriculture is important to Princeton,” said Seidl. The fiddler normally at the market each week is away right now but will be back in time for the grand opening on July 4. There will be a barbecue and live music and more vegetables. The market is open on Thursdays from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm.<\c> LF20130629N Diverse 1/

Hand-turned biscuit cutters come from the lathe of Al Mather.

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Terry Starks is one of nine regular vendors at the weekly Princeton Farmers Market.

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Sharon Norman fills her Thyme to Paint stand with artworks that appeal to summer visitors to Princeton, Me.

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Photos by Robin Follette

Photos by Robin Follette

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