While traditionally conjuring up images of fresh produce piled high in tiers of wooden boxes, farmers markets have evolved to also offer handcrafted goods, food trucks and entertainment – even fighting climate change – and organizers are also making a concerted effort to reach out to more people .
Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets is working to attract more tourists and visitors to markets this year through an initiative called Discover a Maine Market. For the first time, pamphlets with information about farmers markets across the state will be available at visitor information centers with a QR code that will bring people to a list of markets near them.
“Statewide tourism outreaches like this is something we haven’t done full throttle, so this is us dipping our toes into that realm,” Jimmy DeBiasi, executive director of MFM, said.
Amy Sinclair, manager of the Yarmouth Farmers Market at the Bickford Pavilion, 1 Railroad Square, is also a volunteer with MFFM and helped develop the initiative.
“When you come to Maine, there’s a list of things you have to do, like see a lighthouse and eat lobster rolls. We want visiting a farmers market to be in that top 10 list of things to do in Maine, because Maine has one of the most robust networks of farmers markets in the country,” Sinclair said.
A new market in Freeport has also joined the network this year. The market, run by Freeport Climate Action Now, or FreeportCAN, is open from 9 am to 1 pm every Friday across from Town Hall at 22 Main St. through mid-October.
“Markets have existed for thousands of years because they’re a place for people to come together and share the most basic thing, which is our love of food and community. I hope people will come and experience the sense of connection with their neighbors and local farmers, while having some great food,” FreeportCAN Coordinator Kathleen Sullivan said.
This is Freeport’s first farmers market since 2014. FreeportCAN was willing to take on the endeavor when approached by the town in January, because of the group’s goal of reducing carbon emissions. The production and transportation of food is responsible for between 25& and 35% of all carbon emissions, but local, organic food has a much smaller carbon footprint, according to FreeportCAN members.
Many markets offer more than just veggies. The Saco Farmers Market, which was established in 1975 and is one of the state’s oldest in operation, offers jewelry, bakery items, coffee, cut flowers, plants and bouquets in addition to local and organically grown vegetables from 8 am to noon Saturdays in the Sacopee Valley Mall.
Some shoppers are even able to make purchases through gift certificates offered by their workplace. The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets is expanding its Bumper Crop program launched last year. Bumper Crop is a “workplace wellness program” where businesses enroll and give their employees gift certificates to shop at local farmers markets. Employers are charged at the end of the season only for vouchers that were redeemed.
“Our goal is getting new people to farmers markets. We approach employers, like Lee Auto Mall, Bath Housing, and Flycatcher, and we encourage them to support their employees and local farms by giving their employees these gift certificates. They’re universal gift certificates for any participating farmers markets,” DeBiasi said. “This is a risk-free incentive to go to a farmers market, experience it, and then people will be amazed with the selection and keep coming back.”
Employers interested in enrolling and to find which markets participate in the program can visit mainfarmersmarkets.org.
Farmers markets across Maine are also becoming more accessible and affordable to more people. Many now accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Some markets also offer Maine Harvest Bucks for SNAP, EBT and WIC users. MHB offers bonus fruits and vegetables for low-income shoppers to help stretch benefits. Participating markets include Kennebunk, Kittery, North Berwick, Norway, Portland, Sanford, and Windham, among others. The full list can be found at maineharvestbucks.org.
Yarmouth Farmers Market offers its own food voucher program, which launched in 2016. Vouchers can be picked up at the Yarmouth Food Pantry, Yarmouth Community Services, or at the information booth at the market. The $15 vouchers are used like cash at any food stall and vendors are reimbursed at the end of each day. The program is funded by local businesses, nonprofits and grants, according to the market’s website.
“Our priority is really having people shop local where 100% of the money goes back to the farmers,” Sinclair said. “Farming is a hard way to make a living. Farming culture is part of our history, it keeps our land open, keeps the environment healthy, and directly supports farmers and their families.”
Yarmouth Farmers Market is bringing back live music, food trucks and an overall “party atmosphere” for the first since the COVID pandemic began. It is open from 3 pm to 6 pm every Thursday at Railroad Square through October.
Farmers markets are also held in Bath, Brunswick, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Gorham, North Yarmouth, Portland, Sanford, Scarborough, South Portland and Windham. A full list of Maine markets and the days they operate can be found at mainefarmersmarkets.org.
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