BUCKSPORT, Maine — After a successful summer this year, the Bucksport Bay Farmers’ Market is moving indoors on Thursday.
Propelled by Leslie Wombacher, the executive director at the Bucksport Area Chamber of Commerce, the market has been able to hop on the local food movement bandwagon to connect Bucksport residents with products from farms in the area.
“It’s a more humanizing experience than cruising down the aisles at their local supermarket with the Muzak playing and the air conditioner blowing,” said Sheila Holtz, who works at the farmstand run by Homeowners Organizing for More Employment, a local nonprofit.
A farmers market got underway in Bucksport back in 2004, but it didn’t have the same level of success.
Every Thursday during the past five months, the Bucksport Bay Farmers’ Market has had between seven and 15 vendors selling produce, crafts, bread, meat and frozen pre-prepared meals. Vendors say the summer months were busier and that once schools started, business slowed. But on a recent Thursday, there was a steady trickle of shoppers throughout the afternoon.
The vendors come from Stockton Springs, Winterport, Troy and at least one — Marlee Sanborn, who sells pumpkins, tomatoes and other produce — is from Bucksport.
So why did the market succeed this year?
“I think more people are thinking about what they eat,” said Leslie Fairbank of Bucksport. She said she was delighted that the farmer’s market got underway this year.
“Good food just tastes good,” she added.
From the start, one of the goals of the market was to reach people of all socioeconomic statuses. In July, the chamber of commerce worked with Healthy Acadia to obtain a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to accommodate participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, formerly known as food stamps. However, most vendors say they have not had many SNAP customers.
Jenny Johnson, who sells baked goods at the market, said she thinks the problem is that SNAP recipients don’t know yet that they can use their benefits at the farmer’s market, and they likely have transportation issues.
“We have a lot of work to do to figure out how people can actually get here,” she said.
With a $2,000 grant from Healthy Acadia, vendors hope that will be a focus for next year. The grant will allow them to go to schools and subsidized housing developments to promote the market during the slower months, so more people know about it when it reopens next summer, according to Bronwyn Clement of Healthy Acadia.
Jim Nichols, who sells produce, has visions of providing transportation and offering a “double your value program,” where SNAP customers can get half price on products. The Ellsworth Farmers Market currently offers the benefit. That market moved indoors last winter and had enough business that the vendors are trying it again this year, according to Paul Volkhausen of the Ellsworth Farmers Market.
Though the Bucksport Area Farmers’ Market, in its present form, was new this year, the old market never fully disappeared. It was kept alive through the years by HOME, which has been selling produce at the location as the sole vendor.
“The willingness of the other farmers has made it a lot more interesting,” said Milly Grimes, who continued to man HOME’s farmstand in Bucksport after the other vendors “left for greener pastures.”
Grimes also gives Wombacher a lot of credit for organizing the vendors and promoting the market heavily on Facebook.
Since the market opened in May, Wombacher has posted on the page every couple of days, advertising what goods would be available, announcing when new vendors were coming and asking viewers for their input on slow days.
A September post revealing that plans were falling into place for the market to move indoors generated 25 likes.
Now those plans have come to fruition. Starting Thursday, Oct. 24, the market will take place 2-6 p.m., at 74 Main St., next to H&R block.