The cool and wet start to the growing season put some farms across the state weeks behind in terms of crop maturation, allowing bright greens and other spring crops to dominate the summer farmers’ market scene in Maine.
But staple summer vegetables are about to hit market stands after June’s warm and sunny weather helped to put the growing season back on track.
“It was a little bit of a slow start to the season for a lot of farms since it was quite cold and wet early on. But since some time in June people have kind of caught up so the variety of vegetables has kind of gone back up to normal,” Brittnay Hopkins, of Kenduskeag-based Wise Acres Farm said.
Co-manager of the Ellsworth Farmers’ Market and a vendor at the Bangor Farmers’ Market, Hopkins said some of her crops are still about a week behind compared to previous seasons. However, vibrant leafy greens and an abundant strawberry crop have been strong sellers and holding the farm over at market.
While raspberries are looking like they are a week behind on Wise Acres Farm, Hopkins said that zucchinis and cucumbers are coming in on time and carrots will be ready next week. But the status of crops varies from market to market and farm to farm, depending on location and soil conditions.
“It sounds like things are about two weeks behind and it varies across the state. I’ve heard from some farmers in northern or Down East Maine that it might even be three weeks behind, but I think in a lot of places it’s two [weeks] and in a lot of places they’re not even missing a beat,” Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, said.
In Waterville, market manager Hanne Tierney of Cornerstone Farm said the summer’s first tomatoes are appearing, giving company to the cucumbers and zucchinis that have been at the market already.
Talking with farmers at market is the best way to determine when a crop you’re looking for might be available. Hopkins said being in the fields everyday gives her a good idea of when crops will be ready for harvest. Hallett said that farmers and market managers have been doing a good job utilizing social media to alert shoppers what they will have at market and when they should get there to ensure it doesn’t sell out before they have a chance to buy.
Still, even with a slightly slow start to the season, Hopkins said customers are willing to wait until the markets have what they are looking for.
“Nationwide, a lot of the advertising or stuff we see on TV is very summery and some of what we’re selling [here] are still vegetables that people would associate more with spring,” Hopkins said. “[Customers] are pretty understanding that we’re not buying [vegetables] in from the south, we’re waiting until we have the crop on our own farm.”
While crop availability varies around the state, one thing that appears to be consistent, Hallett said, is strong customer turnout at markets this year. Strong harvests of spring crops and strawberries have been drawing people to market despite the relatively damp market weather.
Both in Bangor and Ellsworth, Hopkins said she is seeing a 50 percent increase in shoppers visiting her booth compared to this time last year. In Bangor, Hopkins believes that the new permanent farmers’ market signs are drawing in new customers who might not have otherwise known the farmers market was there. But overall, she and Hallet agree that social media is helping farmers and market managers reach out to customers and draw them to market.
“Social media is something that is helpful for markets. We can reach our customers before market to remind them to come. We can run around at market to take some photos and remind people that there are still a few hours left,” Hopkins said.
Given nature’s unpredictability, it can’t be guaranteed which crops will be at which markets each week, but it’s worth it to keep checking into your local farmers’ market, because as Tierney said, “there’s more and more food every week.”