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New Growth for Farmers Markets

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by Andrew Rudansky

The inability to get a parking spot on Main Street and Jerry Seinfeld are not the only things to return with the arrival of summer, this weekend saw the reopening of several farmers markets on the East End.

The farmers markets have in recent years gained much popularity, evident by yet another market opening up, allowing yet another opportunity for Hampton natives and seasonals alike to peruse through the various locally grown and cultivated foodstuffs.

The wind made even casual conversation difficult, but the weather did not keep people away from the Sag Harbor Farmers Market this Saturday morning. Throughout the day people stopped by and shopped around the fifteen-tent pavilion.

Michael Denslow, manager of the Sag Harbors Farmers’ Market, actively oversees the operation through a pair of dark sunglasses. Pointing to a nearby tent, Denslow said, “Everything you see on that table, that person grew.” Dressed the part of the suburban farmer, Denslow is confident that his first year as manager of the Sag Harbor Farmers Market will be a success. 

With shaky economic indicators and little hope for a quick end to the global recession, it is questionable if people will skip the grocery stores to purchase their food from the more expensive farmers markets. Denslow is unconcerned, saying that whatever increase in price, if there is any, is more than made up for by a number of attractive features found in a farmers market. Denslow said, “The most important thing is the preservation of local spaces; the farmers’ market helps facilitate that.” 

The vendors of the Sag Harbor Farmers Market stand by their wares, presenting products cultivated, harvested, and made in many cases by their own hands. Each vendor paid 20 dollars a week to set up shop at the Sag Harbor Farmers Market, a price that one vendor said, “Is not a big cost, but every cost is looked at.” 

Bette Lacina and her husband Dale Haubrich are two such vendors; by late morning they stand in their stand with what is left of their goods. They explain that they sold the bulk of their harvest fairly early in the day.            

Lacina and Haubrich own and operate a small organic farm in Sag Harbor on the Sag Harbor Turnpike; Lacina describes it as a real “Mom and pop business.” They have been involved with the Sag Harbor Farmers Market from its origins as an attraction at the 2003 Harborfest.

When asked about the economic difficulties facing small farmers, Haubrich says it is farmers markets like this one that help keep them in business.

“Direct sales are crucial to small organic farmers,” he said.

The pair maintain light smiles and sideways glances when Lacina said, “We have quite a following”

One point that Haubrich and Lacina make that is echoed by the other vendors at the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market, is the need for a permanent location. The market, which currently sits near the Breakwater Yacht Club on Bay Street, has seen many changes in location. The organizers and vendors say that a permanent location along with permanent signage could really increase the profitability of the market.

Sag Harbor’s Farmer Market may be the first of its kind in the Hamptons but it is by no means the only one. 

The newest of these local markets to open on the East End is the Hayground Farmers Market located on Mitchells Lane in Bridgehampton. Jon Snow, the representative from the Hayground Farmers Market, describes how the Hayground School effectively uses the market to benefit the students. “There is an educational component here, we get the kids involved,” said Snow.

When asked about the expansion of available farmers markets out on the East End, Snow said, “One step at a time…we need to let it develop organically.” In relation to newly developed saving habits of East End residents Snow said, “It’s not about comparison shopping, it’s about community…a farmers market takes the anonymity out of shopping,”

Kate Plumb, organizer of the East Hampton farmers market for the past three years, is one of the first to agree. Plumb said she sees “exponential growth” in East End farmers markets. Citing the precedent of California with its hundreds of farmers’ markets, Plumb hopes to one day see a farmers’ market in every East End village.

Plumb said that the emphasis of the East Hampton Farmers Market is the importance of local business, “Farmers Markets allow small farmers to actually make a profit, we are struggling to help these small farmers…we should be tearing down the old malls.”

I got a chance to stop by one of these “old malls” to find out what people thought about the recent openings of these farmers markets. Outside of the King Kullen Super Market in Bridgehampton I asked one shopper about using a local farmers market as an alternative to one of the chains. “I didn’t know there was a farmers market around here,” the shopper said.