Growth of Bridgton Farmers’ Market comes with challenges

A MATTER OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND — Helen Ramsdell, shown here selling her goat cheese at last summer’s Bridgton Farmers’ Market, said most people don’t realize that a farmers’ market with multiple vendors is a business, and as such follows the law of supply and demand. Only so many people will buy a specialty item like goat cheese on any given Saturday, so it doesn’t make sense for more than one vendor to offer the cheese. “I couldn’t survive without selling cheese,” said Ramsdell, who raises Nubian dairy goats at Rams Farm in Denmark with A. Victoria Drew.

A MATTER OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND — Helen Ramsdell, shown here selling her goat cheese at last summer’s Bridgton Farmers’ Market, said most people don’t realize that a farmers’ market with multiple vendors is a business, and as such follows the law of supply and demand. Only so many people will buy a specialty item like goat cheese on any given Saturday, so it doesn’t make sense for more than one vendor to offer the cheese. “I couldn’t survive without selling cheese,” said Ramsdell, who raises Nubian dairy goats at Rams Farm in Denmark with A. Victoria Drew.

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

When the Bridgton’s Farmers’ Market opens Saturday, May 7, it will be bigger than ever, with three new vendors, an information booth, entertainment area and a new tent to process EBT cards. Yet with growth often comes growing pains, which came to light at the April 27 Board of Selectmen meeting.

Representatives of the market attended in force, over concerns that the board’s decision April 12 to allow an outside vendor to set up beside the market would disrupt its identity as one cohesive organization.

But their concerns ultimately became moot when, at the end of a lengthy discussion, Julie Mannix of Old School Creamery in Harrison stood up to say she’s decided, regardless of the hawker’s permit the board approved, to set up elsewhere in the downtown, on private land.

Her permit, and the conflicts perceived by vendors under the market’s bylaws, had the unforeseen advantage of convincing selectmen that they need to formally define the town’s relationship with the market, which began as a small handful of vendors in 1997 taking up space in the town-owned parking lot next to the Bridgton Community Center. Market vendors in attendance and the board agreed to hold a joint workshop some time after the June 15 Town Meeting.

Farmers’ Market Director Helen Ramsdell, who runs Rams Farm in Denmark, told the board that space will be tight at the market this summer, since they will be unable to use the grassy area between the parking lot and Depot Street. Three new vendors will bring the total number of market vendors to 17.

The success of the market has brought more and more people into Bridgton on a Saturday morning than ever before, said Ramsdell. “We want to feel valued and that you appreciate what we do.”

The vendors were taken aback by the board’s vote on April 12 to allow Old School Creamery to set up to sell her goat milk and cheese, creams and soaps beside the market. The market vendors had taken a vote a few weeks earlier not to include Mannix in the market this year, based on the fact that the market already sells many of those products, and that vendor membership is partially based on seniority. The market is governed by a set of bylaws that address all aspects of its operation.

“We’re hoping not to have outside vendors setting up at the same space and time,” said market Assistant Manager BrennaMae Thomas-Googins of Patch Farm in Denmark, referring to the permit the board granted to Old School Creamery. It’s not a matter of competition, she said, so much as it is that outside vendors would be perceived by the public as being part of the market, when they are not.

“It really truly has nothing to do with the (quality of the) product,” Thomas-Googins said. “It has to do with a conflict of interest and making sure that we can successfully run the market like we’ve done for 20-some years.” For example, she said, a customer might assume incorrectly that they can use their EBT card discounts to buy from an outside vendor.

Selectman Bob McHatton said he recalls when the market first started, it used a muddy area beside the Bridgton Community Center, which the town then did not own. Now that it has grown so significantly, he said, “We need to sit down and see what is in both the town’s and the market’s best interest.”

Mannix, for her part, thanked the board for granting her permit, but said it should be considered null and void. “I took this a little bit further than others (who had been denied inclusion in the market) had in the past, (because) I didn’t see that anybody on the board had the right to prescreen” vendors.

Asked how many of the market’s vendors were from Bridgton, market vendor Jessica Glendinning of Chase Street Soap Company said there were only three, with her being one of them. “We haven’t had anyone from Bridgton apply,” she said. “We’re not picking and choosing based on where people are from.”

Thomas-Googins said all of the vendors work hard to present the market as one cohesive unit, and take responsibility for how their products are marketed, and pitching in to clean up the parking lot after the market closes each week (hours are from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday through the fall).

“We do hope that the town trusts that we know how to operate our market,” Thomas-Googins said. She said vendors who aren’t chosen in any given year are encouraged to try again.

“This is not a reaction we’ve gotten from any other vendor, and we encourage them to try again, because we do want to see our market grow.”

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