After one of the nastiest winters in recent memory, it’s a pleasure to contemplate the reopening of the Berkshires’ farmers’ markets. The 2014 season opens on Saturday, May 10, welcoming the legendary Great Barrington Farmers’ Market and the much newer Pittsfield Market. Farmers’ markets in Lee, Lenox, Sheffield and West Stockbridge will open in coming weeks.
While a customer’s first attraction to a farmer’s market is the fresh food and flowers, a close second is the hospitable spirit of the place. The vendors, who easily spend 7 to 8 hours per market — traveling to and from, setting up and taking down the booth, working the market — are completely enamored with the markets’ camaraderie. In fact, the farmers’ sense of community is paramount to the success of the markets.
Farmers’ markets are an old idea writ new. They flourished in America for generations, but began to decline in the mid-19th century as refrigeration and mass transit paved the way to centralized grocery stores. Twenty years ago, in 1994, there were only 1,755 farmers’ markets in the U.S. By 2013 the number had jumped to 8,144, and this year promises even more.
The longest running farmers’ market in the Berkshires is the Great Barrington market, now celebrating its 24th year. After 23 years at the train station, the Great Barrington market has moved to the freshly cleaned and renovated Great Barrington Fairgrounds at 659 Main St., across from Guido’s and the Big Y. This larger space, it is hoped, will reduce parking problems, allow for more vendors as the market expands, and present a much more visible presence in town, according to fairgrounds owners Bart and Janet Elsbach.
There are 28 vendors signed up for this season, up from 24 last year. The new additions include SOMA Catering, which will sell freshly baked pizzas; Cricket Creek Farm, offering its farm-made cheeses; Oliva Provisions, presenting several different types of pesto; and longtime community garden center Ward’s, providing locally grown large plants for sale.
These four newcomers join the well-established fruit and vegetable farmers, the bakers, and the cheese, fish, and meat providers who consistently sell high-quality food that is locally grown. And for the first time, the Great Barrington market vendors will accept SNAP vouchers (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), so that people of all income brackets can savor the pleasure of local food.
The Great Barrington Farmers’ Market will be celebrating the opening of its 24th season on Mother’s Day weekend with a raffle for a bag full of market delights. And May 10 marks the debut of Howard Lefenfeld as the new market manager. Howard’s long career in retailing will be a benefit as he welcomes back longtime market shoppers and meets new ones.
The Pittsfield Farmers’ Market, now in its second year, will open Saturday with 15 farmers and food producers, and 10 artisans. The number of vendors at their market will increase as the weather warms and more local food is available. The market is located at the parking lot at First and Fenn streets, across from the Common.
The Alchemy Initiative and the City of Pittsfield are the sponsors of the Pittsfield Farmers’ Market, overseen by Alchemy Initiative director Jess Conzo. She has planned many special events for the 2014 market, including chef demonstrations on the first Saturday of every month.
On May 31, the Pittsfield market will sponsor Wellness Day, featuring chiropractors and other holistic practitioners as well as fitness professionals. Crossfit, yoga and Zumba teachers will present demonstrations and information.
The Berkshire Edge will provide updates on our county’s farmer’s markets throughout the season.