Small World: Our Farmers’ Market cornucopia

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Let us today address a question of great interest to all patriotic Bridgtonians and one that they can do something about — unlike our national and international afflictions.

That question is the future of the Farmers’ Market every (climate permitting) Saturday morning on Depot Street. It would appear that the planned “esplanade” to be created on said street would disrupt the now — mostly — smoothly functioning market. That would be a grave error.

My evidence is fragmentary: an article in The News mentioned an 84-signature petition submitted to the selectmen by Market merchants and friends, but did not print said petition. The same article suggested that the future of the market was not especially cherished by the selectmen. If true, that would be a grave error.

Bridgton is an attractive town — possibly ranking up there among the finest traditional towns of New England. Its curving downhill Main Street bordered by a variety of small shops and places of entertainment (and instruction) is an unplanned success story — with only one or two too-big exceptions. Soon it will be enriched by the transferred Rufus Porter Museum. It is a town that correctly “merits a detour,” as the guidebooks say.

On Saturday mornings, that advice is strengthened by the presence of the Farmers’ Market. Like most Mainers in summer we had a half dozen batches of visitors this past year; half of them modified their stay to be present for the market on Saturday. I am sure other Bridgtonians have had the same experience. And when tourists and other outsiders go to the market, chances are they will also visit Renys or one of the other merchants and lunch at one of the fine eateries.

Farmers’ markets are HOT, a major boon to local economies nationwide. According to the New York Times, the Department of Agriculture will spend $52 million to support them and related “local and regional food systems.” The markets, the article reports, are “proliferating around the country, increasing 76% to 8,268 since 2008.” More money is to come for local and organic enterprises from the farm bill signed by the president in February. $291 million are to be aimed at that sector.

“These types of local food systems are the cornerstones of our plans to revitalize” the rural economy, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack said. “If you can connect local produce with markets that are local, money gets rolled around in the local community more directly compared to commercial agriculture.”

The secretary is on target. Maine’s farming economy is experiencing rejuvenation through a lively farm-to-table movement, a huge boost to area farming families’ incomes. Small farms are one of the few sectors doing well in this economy and should be encouraged! Some market stands sell food in exchange for food stamps.

The market is the place for the freshest and different vegetables (kohlrabi) and hard to find freshly slaughtered meats (lamb). Berries, flowers, baked goods, goat cheese, plants, freshly spun wool and crafts are to be found — most rather rare locally. (But bear in mind also Richard the Berry Man on Main Street and Shepard’s Farm Stand on South High Street — extended.) The Market is where I meet many old and often some new friends from town — a more active social scene than the transfer station!

Back to the Depot Street plan. The main problem for customers now is the large puddle and damp places after a heavy rain along the Market block. A drainage system or some sort of fix is badly needed. The merchants can fill in the details (if not the puddle). The town might also consider subsidizing musicians and other attractions that would make the Market even more a must-stop in Bridgton.

“This whole (Depot Street) design is not for the Farmers’ Market,” Selectman Chairman King is quoted as saying, “It ought to be,” I, and many others, reply. Perhaps Mr. King was misquoted; if so, I apologize and welcome him to the Market Support Group!

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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