Tag Archive | "Ivo Tomasini"

Farmers Market Now Takes Food Stamps

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By Claire Walla

For many East End residents, farmers’ markets provide the ideal shopping experience: a place to buy fresh foods and simultaneously give back to the local community.

While local markets have continued to pop up around the East End — most recently on Shelter Island —Ivo Tomasini, co-manager of the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market, said there is still a percentage of the population for whom the markets seem to be out-of-reach.

“We get a lot of: ‘The market’s great, but it’s too expensive!’” Tomasini explained. “That’s one of the biggest hurdles in our marketing efforts.  There is definitely this notion that farmers’ markets are expensive.”

To help address the issue, Tomasini and his wife and co-manager Ana Nieto introduced an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program, which essentially means those who qualify for federally funded food stamps can now shop at the local market, too.

In essence, food stamp qualifiers can hand a government-issued debit card to Tomasini or Nieto, who set-up shop at the front of the market, and one of the two managers will swipe the card for the amount desired by each shopper and then hand them tokens accordingly. (Each token is equal to $1.)  Shoppers will then be able to use the tokens to pay the vendors.

Tomasini said the desire to make the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market food-stamp-compliant didn’t come from customers. Rather, Tomasini said he and Nieto — who have been running the market for about a year, now — are following a national trend.

“There’s a lot of popularity and buzz around the program throughout the nation,” he explained. “And because it’s so popular on a national scale, we thought: Let’s have it at our market.”

Tomasini and Nieto actually spoke to farmers’ market managers across the country, namely those Colorado and Virginia, who have already implemented EBT systems to some success. They also researched the system more locally, speaking with the farmers’ market manager in Westhampton Beach.

“It takes time for it to be successful,” Tomasini concluded. “This will be a whole learning process for both the vendors and the customers.  Normally, people [who are on government assistance programs] will just go to a typical grocery store to buy food.”

He added that it will be the job of the market managers to get the word out to the public that they have other options when it comes to paying.

As for the vendors, education will come in the way of what can and can’t be sold to customers. Foods accepted by the federally funded program are: fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, poultry, dairy products, baked goods, jams, jellies, honey, maple products, juices, as well as plants or seeds (excluding cut flowers and ornamental plants, like Christmas trees). Exempted items are “basically, anything that’s a non-food item or anything for immediate consumption,” Tomasini explained. These rules won’t really affect the Sag Harbor market, he continued, because there isn’t a lot of prepared food for sale.  Though food-stamp shoppers will be exempt from buying wine.

While Tomasini said he and Nieto have yet to serve a customer using a government assistance program, he hopes the program will encourage more people to take advantage of the market and shop locally. And, in this economy, he suspects there are a lot of people out here who fit that description.

“Quite a few people have already come through the market in Westhampton,” Tomasini gleaned from conversations with the manager there. “People have pulled up to the market in a Mercedes and then pulled out a food stamp — this economy has created a very bizarre juxtaposition. The whole demographics of people who are on food stamps now is changing dramatically.”

Though this season is almost over, Tomasini and Nieto hope to transfer the EBT program to the winter market (for which they are in the process of trying to secure a space). And they will continue to offer EBT services next season.

Once word on the program gets out there, Tomasini continued, “We hope people will start to come out of the woodwork.”

Wine and Winter Veggies: Farmers Market Moves Indoors for the Holidays

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By Claire Walla

As summer dies down and the cold air sets in, life here on the East End tends to, well, settle down for a long winter’s nap. Farmers and crops included. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, farm stands and farmers markets typically have closed-up shop for the season.

However, this year beginning Saturday, December 4, the Sag Harbor Farmer’s Market will be back in business for three more weekends, bringing local farmers and vendors in direct contact with the community each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. through December 18.

Though during the warm summer months the market is held in the space outside the Sag Harbor Yacht Club on Bay Street, buyers and sellers this month can rest assured their fingertips will not go numb while handling home-grown goods; the winter market will be housed at 34 Bay Street — inside the new retail building directly across the street from its summer locale.

“We had the opportunity, so we did it,” said Ana Nieto, who, along with Ivo Tomasini, began managing the Sag Harbor Farmers Market this past year. “We were both kind of sad that it was going to end.”

So when the opportunity came to rent the space across the street, Nieto and Tomasini jumped at the chance.

So far, about eight of the market’s 17 summer vendors will take part, but Nieto said this is mostly because plans for the winter market got off the ground a bit late in the game.

“We want it to be a continuation of the summer market,” Nieto explained, but added there will be other vendors as well because not all who participate in the summer market were prepared to extend their season. “The farmers just weren’t thinking of winter, they typically plan [their harvests] for April through November.”

She added that Bette Lacina and Dale Haubrich, who run Bette and Dale’s farm stand on the Sag Harbor Turnpike, expressed interest in the winter market, but were unable to participate this year for that very reason.
“The main difference [between this market and the summer market] is that there will be much less fresh veggies,” Nieto said. “But there will be crafts for the holidays.”

Buyers can also expect to see goods from Mecox Bay Dairy, Grapes of Roth and Taste of the North Fork, plus other foods that aren’t necessarily seasonal, like baked goods, fudge, Italian pastries, fish and pickles. Nieto and Tomasini are hoping to get a Christmas tree vendor to the market as well.

Tomasini said that while most vendors and customers welcomed the idea for the winter market, some vendors cautioned him and Nieto about holding a market at this time of year when the population dwindles compared to the summer, and sales are usually down. However, Tomasini maintains that the winter market is merely an experiment this year. “We’re just throwing it out there … I don’t know if it’s going to work,” he said.

Depending on how much interest is generated over the next three weekends, Nieto and Tomasini will decide whether or not to tackle this project again next year. And if they do, their hope is that they will get in touch with farmers soon enough to be able to incorporate more fresh foods into the mix.

Though buyers shouldn’t expect to see everything offered during the summer — delicate crops like lettuce, for example, typically don’t last through winter’s first frost — Tomasini and Nieto hope to incorporate more hearty fresh seasonal foods into the market, like root vegetables, and freshly preserved foods, like sun dried tomatoes and pestos.

According to Ian Calder-Piedmont of Balsam Farms in Amagansett, there are several fruits and vegetables that can also be grown and stored throughout the winter months. He said Balsam Farms, for example, stores potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternut squash all winter long. He added that vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and more sturdy leafy greens like kale and collard greens can also be grown in colder climates.

“They can take the frost and keep on going,” he said.

And while not all foods can be stored for months on end, Calder-Piedmont noted that vegetables like carrots, beets, celery root, apples, onions and cabbage can be stored successfully through the colder seasons.

Balsam Farms typically doesn’t sell its crops via farmers markets, choosing instead to sell wholesale, as well as through its farm stand in East Hampton. Calder-Piedmont noted that the business does typically slow down this time of year. However, like Nieto and Tomasini, he believes people’s attitudes toward food are beginning to change.

“I’m optimistic that there can be winter markets in the future,” he said.
“The whole trend is really kicking into high gear,” said Tomasini of eating locally grown seasonal foods.

“[Supporting this effort] is something that we’ve been wanting for a while. We wish we had started thinking about [the winter market] a bit sooner,” Nieto added. “But again, we had the opportunity to do it, so we did.”