Editor’s note: This article was written by Douglas Phinney, a student at the University of Vermont and a reporter for the Community News Service, a student-powered partnership with local community newspapers.
Friday, June 4 marked the opening of this year’s iteration of the Richmond Farmers Market.
Market organizers say they faced challenges in planning the market amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but organizers and vendors alike say they’re hopeful for a great year.
“This year feels like it’s a rebound year,” says Richmond Farmers Market co-manager Ariana Matthews-Salzman. It’s sunny and 84 degrees, and Matthews-Salzman is sitting at the entrance to the market, the first to be held under the new state COVID-19 guidelines.
Market organizers, vendors, and customers are all excited for the return of the market, they said, and the return of at least some level of normalcy amid rising vaccination rates in Vermont.
Having to plan the market amid the ever-evolving situation of the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult, Matthews-Salzman said. But the severity of the issues have changed for the better, she said. Questions about masking and distancing requirements are preferable to last year’s questions about the market being held at all.
Although the Richmond market had been dwindling prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers and vendors have noticed renewed interest, they said. Despite the pandemic, revenue figures for last year’s market were similar to 2019, leaving organizers optimistic. This year’s market will feature 20 full-time vendors, equal to last year’s biggest day, and the busiest days of this year’s market will see up to 29 vendors set up shop on Richmond’s Volunteers Green.
Eager to capitalize on this increased interest, market planners have taken extra steps to ensure that everyone in attendance feels safe and comfortable, including allowing individual vendors to enforce more strict regulations regarding masks and distancing at their stands as they see fit.
Eugenie Doyle, co-owner and founder of Last Resort Farm, shares the planners’ optimism. Last Resort Farm, based out of Monkton, Vermont, has maintained a spot at the Richmond Farmers Market for 25 years, making them by far the longest running vendor.
“Last year was difficult,” Doyle says, describing the extra steps and precautions necessary during the earlier stages of the pandemic. But today her stand is one of the busiest at the market, with strawberries and asparagus being particularly popular.
Like the market itself, some vendors have found ways to thrive this past year. Jessica Cedergren LaBonte, founder of Cedar Tree Pottery, is one of those vendors.
Cedergren LaBonte started selling her pottery three years ago, but has been making it since the 1990’s. For the past 20 years she has sold her pottery alongside her job as a high school art teacher, but in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic she decided to transition to the pottery business full-time.
“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen now,” she said.
Cedergren LaBonte credits the increasing interest in her business to Vermont’s unique culture, the outdoor setting of the market, and what she perceives to be a generally rising interest in handmade items.
This idea is seconded by Chelsea Clark, a customer returning to the Richmond Market for the first time in years. She personally has been trying to get to more local farmers markets this year.
“I think we’re all refocused on supporting local things,” Clark says. One of her favorite vendors is Chepe, who runs the Aromaticah food stand, serving up fresh cooked Latin American specialty dishes.
New faces are a common theme at this year’s market. Stoni Tomson, a Richmond native passionate about being hyperlocal to the market, is here for her first year and her first market with her new farm — the appropriately-named New Tradition Farm. Having spent the last five years working on various farms, in the midst of the pandemic, Tomson decided to take the plunge and start her own operation.
“Farmers are just going to meet the challenges that come to them, no matter what. Farmers will find a way,” Tomson said. She is grateful to be a part of a community like Richmond, where people care for, and respect one another, she says.
The feeling of gratitude to both the market and the community is one shared by market customer Polly Dakin, former resident of Richmond, and one of many customers enjoying the afternoon at the market. Dakin has been regularly attending the Richmond market since the early 90’s.
“It’s nice to have [the market] expanded from last year. Last year it was difficult for everybody,” Dakin said.
Back at the entrance to the market, Ariana Matthews-Salzman describes the upcoming plans for this year. The year will feature agricultural events, a pop-up bike mechanic clinic, and hopefully even a COVID-19 vaccine clinic, along with the usual music and vendors.
She hopes to grow the market into an event that’s not simply a farmers’ market, but a gathering of the community featuring other local organizations, and drawing in people with more diverse interests.
“My goal for the market is to get the town’s people more involved,” Matthews-Salzman said. “It really takes a whole town to put on a good market.”