Salem Farmer’s Market keeps a tradition alive and well
Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent
Although the 2016 Salem Farmers’ Market may bear little resemblance to its 1634 originator, the Commonwealth’s earliest settlers would feel right at home in downtown Derby Square in front of Old Town Hall — the oldest surviving municipal building in Salem.
Today, as then, the market offers much more than local fresh produce and other dry and baked goods. It also offers a place where people can gather and feel a real sense of local community.
Hundreds of smiling people of all ages did just that last Thursday, braving the wind gusts and threatening skies, to be part of the festivities marking the Salem Farmers’ Market’s eighth opening day. Many lounged on Town Hall steps, munching and talking. Others gladly sampled the vendors’ wares.
“The Salem Farmer’s Market creates a community center where residents can catch up with other,” said Kylie Sullivan, executive director of Salem Main Streets.
In fact, according to Kylie, whose downtown Salem revitalization organization runs the market, the city’s deed actually requires the use of Derby Square as a market. “The Salem Farmer’s Market physically transforms the feel of downtown for a little while in a way that’s very relevant to its history,” she added.
The volunteer-run market will be held at the square on Front Street in downtown Salem every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. through October 13. Each week features live music and other entertainment.
Among the 30 vendors lined up for 2016 is “Balloon Man” Lawrence Levesque, who lives in Peabody and is also a magician. He met some people who were “in balloons” eight years ago, and he’s been twisting balloons into fanciful shapes to the delight of youngsters of all ages ever since. “I love it. I wouldn’t do anything else. It’s the best career choice I ever made,” he said as he handed a preschooler a perfect latex dachshund.
Mandy Williamson of Marblehead’s “Fishwives Specialty Foods” started her business on a friend’s dare after she lost her job as regional director of biotech in a wastewater management company. She makes all natural, gluten-free chowders and bisques and “on-the-go” gazpacho that comes in a 16-ounce bottle ready to crack open and drink “much as they do in Spain.”
Because the chowders are gluten free, Williamson can cut back on cream and butter without cutting back on taste resulting in an “absolutely decadent” taste with only 200 calories per 10-ounce cup.
Holly and Andy Varela started Maitland Mountain Farms, one of the seven major farms that anchor the market, after Holly’s 2009 visit to the Salem Farmer’s Market inspired them to ask her father about growing vegetables on his 2.5 acre Salem property.
He agreed, and the two revived the land, cultivating it and installing greenhouses. “Six years later, we’re actually an agricultural production,” Andy said proudly of Salem’s only urban farm.
These days, the bulk of their business is pickles, which they sell all over the Northeast through a food service. They still stay close to their homegrown roots, however, by doing local farmers markets and servicing farm stands and small “boutique-y shops.”
Among the market’s biggest fans is Mayor Kim Driscoll, who was excited when its June 9 opening day rolled around. “The market is such a vibrant and fun weekly downtown event,” she said, offering thanks to Salem Main Streets, the volunteers, City employees and all the vendors “who put in the hard work to make the market possible.”
Tucked in a corner in the shadow of Town Hall is Ann Counihan’s “All Fruit Inc.”, an all natural dried fruit and nut mix that comes in eleven varieties. The healthy snacks-in-a bag are attractively packaged for travelling and are meant to be eaten anywhere.
A large board labeled “Samples” generously offered smaller versions of each of the 11 varieties, each packaged with the same attention to style and detail. Not only were they the classiest samples at the market, Counihan’s encouragement to try as many as you wanted made doing so guilt-free.
Sullivan thinks these direct connections between business owners and customers are a key benefit of the Salem Farmer’s Market. “It becomes a pipeline for emerging businesses to grow their product and their reach,” she said.
For the latest updates about the Salem Farmer’s Market, visit salemfarmersmarket.org, “like” them on Facebook at facebook.com/SalemMAFarmersMarket or follow them on Twitter at @salemfarmmarket.