PRINCETON, Maine — A group of farmers, businesspeople and advocates have been working all winter to establish a local farmers market while saving a historic Grange Hall.
It was fitting, then, that they gathered Sunday at the Grange Hall, which was built in 1887, to refine their plans. Over a meal of homemade chili, salad with local ingredients, baked ham, fresh pickles and a three-layer cake, the group said it has its roots both in the past and in the future.
“We aren’t just establishing a new market,” farmer Wayne Seidl of Waite said. “We’re re-establishing what was common in the past.” In the 1800s, he said, the Princeton area had a thriving farming population.
More importantly, he said, the group is reconnecting a group of small towns — Princeton, Grand Lake Stream, Waite, Talmadge, Indian Township, Big Lake and Topsfield — into a community. Some of these towns have populations of fewer than 50 people, Seidl said, and the farmers market can be just the beginning to linking the area together economically.
“The thing is, it’s not just a farmers market,” Terry Starks of Princeton said. Starks will be providing eggs, flowers and vegetables to the market. “It’s a sneaky way to get this community together again — sell vegetables, get the youth involved, get everyone out of their homes and rubbing shoulders with their neighbors again, bring out the old-timers and the new farmers. It is such a common-ground thing, food. It is the common denominator.”
The group also hopes to build on the growing popularity of local foods. “People are becoming more health-conscious,” Jim Kesel of Green Jeans Farm said. “This has opened up an even greater market.”
From 26 farmers markets in Maine in 1990, the Maine Department of Agriculture now estimates there are 80 such markets directly connecting consumers with the people growing their food.
“People want to put a face on their food, know their farmer,” Seidl said. “They want to know how their food was grown, how the animals producing their food were treated. They are now having a conscience along with their food purchases.”
Seidl said, “It means something to people when they know that the seeds for the tomatoes I am growing were brought from Italy by my grandmother, tucked in her bra. They are looking for a personal connection.”
“They smile, they are happy when I tell them that the sweet corn they are buying is the same corn their grandparents ate,” farmer Joseph Ruff said.
Farmers markets benefit the entire economy of an area, including local businesses, Starks said.
Sandra Smith owns the Bellmard Inn on Route 1 in Princeton. She is participating in the market as a customer and said her guests will be very pleased to find a farmers market in the area. “It is a great benefit to us because it is an advantage to our customers,” Smith said.
In addition, there are dozens of sporting camps in the Grand Lake Stream area that will support the market, she said.
The market will open June 16 at the Princeton ball field on West Street and has been heartily welcomed by the local Board of Selectmen. The hours will be 4 to 7 or 8 p.m., depending on the customer base.
“By holding an evening market, it gives everyone who is working a chance to come and buy,” Seidl said. “This is a hybrid market. We are inviting local crafters, artists and others that make products with local materials as well. We want to turn this into the go-to destination on Thursday nights.”
The market already has sellers signed up that will provide vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs, herbs, maple syrup, as well as a photographer and a wooden bowl maker. Starks said that even backyard gardeners with a surplus can join the market on a seasonal or part-time basis.
At the gathering Sunday, the group talked some more about saving the Grange Hall, the benefits of hoop houses and saving seeds. Coffee was served, and cake was passed around.
Sandra Chute of Talmadge offered rhubarb shoots and grapevines from her garden. “I believe in this,” Chute said. “This is what community is all about.”
To contact the Princeton farmers market about becoming a vendor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.