by Harrison Lees
photo by Leah Cooper of RIA Services
Farmers’ markets are nothing new, but with the increasing popularity of organic produce, the allure of fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers is increasing as well. According to a 2006 USDA Agricultural Marketing Services report, farmers’ markets in the US have grown from 1,755 in 1994 to approximately 4,500 today. For CT farmers who participate in the markets, it all comes down to product safety. “People are concerned because they never really know where food is coming from,” describes Warren Burrows, a farmer who attends the market in the parking lot of the Village Market, Ledyard. He says that with the food scares in recent years regarding spinach and tomatoes, people seek more reassurance that their food is grown safely, that there is a “certain trust with local growers.”
Anita Kopchinski, a member of the Ledyard Farmers’ Market, started farming and attending these functions two years ago and noticed a few things about her customers. “People are more concerned about how food is grown. There is simply more time and attention given to organic produce.” She continues, saying that people “know it’ll taste better, last longer, and that it’s fresher.”
In accordance with this, Warren and Anita, as well as many more farmers, are part of the Northern Organic Farmers Association (NOFA), a community of cultivators and landscapers who grow only organic vegetation and work to minimize waste for the health of their consumers as well as for the planet. One of the prerequisites for joining the organization is taking the “Farmer’s Pledge.” According to the pledge, a NOFA farmer must treat their animals humanely, use compost, conserve energy use and convert to renewable energy sources, encourage distributing unsold edible food to those who need it, and maintain a healthy land for future generations just to name a few. Some of the prohibitions enforced by the pledge include the abandonment of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, radiation, and preservatives. One of the main staples of the NOFA is, according to one of its websites, is working “in cooperation with other farmers and with the neighboring community to create a more sustainable way of life.” They are also held by the requirement that they reduce “food mileage,” the distance the produce has to travel to market, by selling and distributing locally.
Some vendors, however, are not farmers themselves. Nikki Wilkins and Carol Goins, for example, sell the food underneath their tent for CT growers who cannot attend personally. They describe the market as the “pet project” of Tri Town Foods co-owner Kevin Brouillard. “Kevin has spent a lot of time on this,” Carol says. The Ledyard Farmers’ Market is sponsored by the Village Market and its parent company, Tri Town Foods. For Carol and Nikki, who have worked for Tri Town at the market for about a year, it was not an instant success. “The first day was very slow,” they describe, “It usually depends on the weather.” The response is more positive lately from the locals. They even go on to say, “You see the same people come every week.” With the growing popularity of farmers’ markets and the promise of fresh, local, naturally grown produce, as well as environmental responsibility and care, it looks as though the appeal to eat and live healthy and safe is catching on.