Farmers’ Markets a Boon to Local Community

Photo: Ted Carter of After the Rain Farm in Alexander is among the many farmers that have been creating a healthier, more connected community through the Sunrise County Farmers' Market. (Facebook 2016 photo).

By Lura Jackson

On its surface, a farmers’ market represents one primary function: it’s a place where farmers can sell their produce to customers directly. In rural areas like Washington County, however, a farmers’ market—like the Sunrise County Farmers’ Market that serves both Calais and Eastport – means significantly more.

“The community aspect is most important,” said Ellen Johnson of Lamb Cove Farm. “Farmers don’t necessarily communicate throughout the year because they are so busy. That’s the one time we get together.” Johnson expressed the added importance of giving farmers the opportunity to meet the people they are producing food for. “We get to know the customers really well and build relationships with them.”

A lot of farmers, including Johnson herself, are dedicated to providing fresh, organically-grown food to their customers. At Lamb Cove Farm, Johnson primarily grows low-bush blueberries for their health benefits. “Our goal is to get good clean food out to people.”

Not only is the farmers’ market an ideal place for farmers to meet their customers, it is also the perfect setting for the community to reconnect with each other, as Jane Eaton, one of the founders of the Sunrise County Farmers’ Market, explains. “It’s mostly older people that come and visit with each other – sometimes they haven’t seen each other in years.”

Eaton dates the Sunrise County market back to “at least” the early 1990s, easily making it the oldest in Washington County and among the oldest in the state. The market got its start in Eastport before spreading to Perry and Robbinston and then Calais. During that time, it has had its shares of changes, though as co-manager Terry Moffitt of Beauregard Farms remarks, “You don’t last that long without bends and bumps in the road!”

At one point, the market required an application and approval process for vendors to offer their goods, but that is no longer the case. Any local produce or craft vendor is invited to participate for a small fee. An annual payment of $12 allows vendors to sell at both the Calais and Eastport markets, and there is a fee of $2 per table. The fees cover the market’s insurance, advertising, and supplies.

One of the ongoing challenges that the market faces is getting sufficient vendors, as co-manager Ted Carter elaborated. “We do need more produce. Growers, artisans, bread makers are all welcome. People can come for two or three markets if they have a glut of something.” 

Carter, who owns After the Rain Farm in Alexander, admits that there are some barriers to farming. “Farming is hard work… I found muscles this spring I didn’t know I had!” Carter and his wife each spent ten hours recently preparing the ground and planting hundreds of potatoes. This year in particular, with its wet, cold spring, has not been overly favorable thus far. “Weather like this does not help plants grow!” 

Just as there are barriers, however, there are also incentives to becoming a farmer in Washington County. Farm Credit East will work with those with limited credit history to begin their farming enterprise while micro-agricultural loans specifically targeted at clients with limited or no credit history are available from Sunrise County Economic Council for up to $20,000 to help farmers expand. According to Kevin Athearn from the University of Maine, in 2013 Washington County residents spent $144 million for food. If 10 percent of that amount was spent locally, it would create 70 jobs, add $641,000 in labor income, produce $117,000 in state and local taxes, and provide $3.5 million additional locally produced food. Encouraging residents to buy local produce is the first step – and farmer’s markets are the best place for that to happen.

This year, the Sunrise County Farmers’ Market will be opening on June 13 in Calais, and it will run from 11-2. There will be spinach, scallions, lettuce, beet greens, chard, rhubarb, Asian vegetables, and salad mixes available, along with seedlings, perennials, peonies, and lilies. Later on in July, cucumbers, garlic and onions will join the array, joined shortly thereafter by blueberries. Traditionally additional goods such as maple syrup from Chandler’s Sugar Shack and fresh-baked breads and pastries have also been available and are anticipated to be present again.

“Everybody should come down and enjoy the spirit of it,” said Eaton. “People are happy, they’re talking, they’re enjoying it. It shows that the community is alive and supporting the Calais area.”

The assorted produce of the Sunrise County Farmers' Market brings exceptional flavor and color to downtown Calais every Tuesday from 11-2 in Triangle Park. (Facebook 2016 photo).