MACHIAS, Maine — Inez Lombardo sits on her stool, looking out at Bad Little Falls in the Machias River, waiting for the next customer to come into the Machias Marketplace.
She doesn’t have to wait long.
The local-buying club — which has linked with nine local farms and the Crown of Maine food cooperative — has tripled its membership in the last 12 months.
“Last year at this time, we had 10 regular customers,” Lombardo said. “I have 109 members on my mailing list and 30 regular customers and another 20 sporadic buyers. And this isn’t even summer.”
The Machias Marketplace has grown to the point where it needed a new home, and recently relocated in the Machias Hardware Co. on Route 1, in the back by the river parking area.
“We are doing so well, I am actively looking for additional farmers to serve our needs,” Lombardo said. “I think the demand is going to outstrip the supply this summer. Every week we are getting new customers.”
The Machias Marketplace has a simple system: Market master Lombardo sends out an e-mail each week listing the farmers’ offerings. What cannot be supplied by local farms is sourced through Crown of Maine, a statewide distributor of organically grown vegetables, fruits and other products. The customer e-mails back an order and picks it up at the hardware store between 2 and 5:30 p.m. each Tuesday.
The cooperating farms include Tide Mill Farm in Edmunds, which sells dairy, meat and vegetables; Gardenside Dairy in Jonesboro, goat milk, cheese and soap; Hatch Knoll in Jonesboro, fruit spreads and blueberries; Olde Sow in Lubec, cow’s milk cheeses; Boot Cove Bakery of Lubec, rustic breads; and Dogwood Herbs, skin care.
“Many people think that because we are a poor county, we don’t have good food,” Lombardo said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The marketplace offers — directly from Washington County farmers — gourmet and artisanal cow and goat cheeses, rustic breads, yogurt, ricotta, raw milk, sour cream, butter, sausage and other meats.
As fresh vegetables come into season, the bounty expands.
“It is a close link between the consumer and the farmer,” Lombardo said. “There has never been a problem with someone’s food, but if there was, they can speak directly with the farmer.”
The fresh food is delivered on Tuesdays, some of it picked or bottled that morning and kept in two coolers and a freezer. The equipment was obtained through a grant with the Maine Department of Agriculture.
“This has been wonderful,” Lombardo said. “We now have the ability to keep things cold. We were using picnic coolers and ice packs before.”
Customer Tora Johnson of Sullivan said buying locally grown food is important to her.
“I find it really important to buy local food not just for the health of my family, but for the health of my community,” she said.
Lombardo encourages anyone who wants to receive the marketplace e-mails to stop in on Tuesdays and sign up.
“We are here to support our local farmers, our neighbors, while providing such healthy, nutritious food for ourselves,” she said.
For information on the Machias Marketplace, contact Inez Lombardo at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 255-8809.