After a long harsh winter, spring has arrived in the northeast, heralded by the return of farmers’ markets throughout the region.
The Farmers’ Market at Forest Park in Springfield, Massachusetts opened for a new season Tuesday afternoon with more than two dozen vendors and a steady stream of visitors.
Bill Malloy of Springfield bought basil and plants for his home garden.
" It's just super. It really convinces you that spring is here. Everybody is having a good time and you get to buy food too."
The early season’s offerings included herb, vegetable and flower plants. There were baked goods, preserves, fresh milk and eggs, honey, and handcrafted jewelry.
Nancy Fransisco was pleased to find organic salad greens.
" It's especially wonderful this year."
Farms that sell direct to consumers are trying to meet demand year-round for locally grown vegetables and produce. Megan Randall of Red Fire Farm of Granby said root vegetables have been stored since fall and leaf vegetables are grown in green houses.
" People like the greens we have available. We have fresh basil. We sold of asparagus in the first hour."
The Farmers’ Market at Forest Park is now in its 17th season. Long time market manager Belle Rita Novak said it has been successful because of an attention to detail and a good mix of high quality vendors.
" I don't let just anybody in. People complain that I am being exclusive, but I'm not. If we don't need something there is no need to have somebody new come in. I want all our vendors to earn good money. They all work so hard."
Municipal support is often cited as a key to the success of a farmers’ market. The city allows the market to put up signs to direct traffic and the fee for admission to the park is waived for people going to the market.
The farmer’s market is valuable to the city of Springfield and the Forest Park neighborhood because of the socialization it brings.
" In the days before we had the kind of commerce we have today, market day was very important. It was not just about buying something , it was about catching up and more," said Novak.
The number of farmers’ markets in Massachusetts more than doubled between 2004 and 2009 as the demand exploded for locally produced food, according to the non-profit Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets. This season there are expected to be 255 farmers’ markets in the state.