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North Conway Farmers' Market takes root

Fifteen vendors expected for opening Sunday on grounds of North Conway Community Center

By Tom Eastman
CONWAY — Some wise sage once said there's “no such thing as bad publicity.”
That certainly was the case in terms of getting the word out about the new North Conway Farmers' Market. Just in time for the start of summer, the farmers' market is set to open on the grounds of the North Conway Community Center Sunday, June 23, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony scheduled for 9 a.m.
Approximately 15 vendors are expected for the first week, selling everything from vegetables, herbs and flowers, to meat, bread, mushrooms, ice cream, coffee, cheese, maple products, soap, and jams and jellies, according to farmers' market board member Kirsten Hjelmstad.
veggiesExpected vendors include Mountain Garden Veggies, White Gates Farm, Heartseed Farm, Cordwood House Brick-Oven Bakers, McKaella's Sweet Shop, Frontside Grind, White Mountain Cheese Company, Young Maple Ridge Sugarhouse, Sunnyfield Bakery, and Kearsarge Mountain Soaps and Sundries.
The Mountain Top String Band will perform this first weekend, and every other weekend thereafter, Hjelmstad said, with other performers also expected.

The market buzz
Plans for the market were big news this spring due to the lukewarm response organizers initially received from the Conway Board of Selectmen about discussions to hold the market at the town-owned Whitaker Homesite.
One positive benefit from all that coverage was that people definitely heard about the market — and now with Plan B for a new location at the North Conway Community Center, things are on the up-and-up, note organizers.
“We're really looking forward to opening day, and we're hoping everyone else is, too,” said Hjelmstad, a 2006 graduate of Kennett High who obtained her degree in public health and wellness from Temple University. “We've gotten a lot of support from the community, and we're very grateful for that. We would not be able to have gotten this far without that support. For the opening, we'll have live music and some face-painting and other activities for the kids, along with a raffle and a massage table.”
Other than Mud Bowl Weekend, Sept. 6-8, the local market will continue Sundays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., through the fall.
Now, with the start of summer, and the North Conway Community site secured along with all permits from the town, insurance and rental fees paid, things are finally at a point where organizers have hoped they would be from the start.
“Young people who like me have gone off to college and come back or who have moved here have experienced farmers' markets elsewhere, and cannot believe that we have not had a market like this here already,” said Hjelmstad. “It's all about sustainability, supporting local farmers, and eating healthy. Young people have embraced it, and are saying why not already. I have heard nothing but positives,” added Hjelmsstad.
Farmers Sean Kenney of Heartseed Farm of Conway and Glen Mitchell of Glen are optimistic that people will step up and support the market.
“We're thinking of calling it 'NoCo Fama Market [translated: North Conway Farmer Market],’ ” said Mitchell.
“One of the reasons why I'm involved is that one of my big missions is  to help to connect people to small farms and local agriculture,” said Kenney. “I am hoping we will have a huge turnout of customers to support these local farmers. We tried it on a small scale at the Frontside Grind on Sundays last year, but that's small potatoes compared to this year.”
Organizers held a $2,500 fund drive this spring. Hjelmstad said they have nearly reached their goal, but more importantly, they have created an awareness of sustainability, local farming and good food.
“What I've been telling everyone,” she said this week, “is that if they really want to show support for the market, they need to show up at the market.”
Fellow volunteer organizers include Janet Wilkinson, executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association; and William Abbott, executive director of the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, the latter of whom is serving as the fiscal agent for the market.
Abbott in a phone interview this week said he considers the early troubles as a learning curve, and that he has nothing but high hopes for the market and future efforts with the town.
He takes a broader look at the group's initial interactions with selectmen.
“That's all water under the bridge as far as I am concerned,” said Abbot June 19. He said selectmen were looking out for the town's interests concerning possible use of town property at the Whitaker Homesite. “There was a lot of miscommunication. We were asking selectmen to do something unprecedented, something that the town had never done before — I understand where they were coming from and that their concerns were valid.”
He's hopeful that now that those discussions have taken place, and the Community Center has been chosen, everything is moving forward.
“I think in terms of where we're at now, and all the huge community support we have received, we're very excited. We're looking forward to a successful first season and making this market an asset for the whole valley,” said Abbott.
He said organizers were careful not to conflict with other local farmers' markets in terms of scheduling. He said Tamworth and Jackson, for example, have for the past few years operated successful markets on Saturdays. By holding the market on Sundays, North Conway's will complement rather than compete with those nearby markets.
He said the North Conway Community Center is providing a central venue that will be easily accessible to consumers, including residents, second-home owners and visitors.
“This site was always a choice, but it also was a more expensive one. But,” said Abbott, “it logistically is also far easier to access. We will be operating under their [the North Conway Community Center's] liability coverage. They have bathrooms, electricity and water, all of which were logistic challenges for the other sites considered.”
“As for our hopes for the market,” said Abbott, “we hope to provide a venue for consumers for accessing locally-grown and raised, healthy produce and other products.”
He said the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust is serving as the market's fiscal agent because the organization supports local agriculture.
“USVLT supports the NCFM as fiscal sponsor because it fits well within the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust's mission,” wrote Abbott in a prepared statement. “We preserve land for community benefit — whether it's land that supports rare species and habitats, or productive working lands. We have conserved five farms in the last decade, many with excellent farmland soils that are unparalleled in the state, and we are currently working on our first farm project in Maine (the Weston's farm).  Preserving farmland keeps it in agricultural production — and starting a locally run Farmers' Market as an outlet for that production makes sense from a marketing perspective as well as an economic perspective. The two are complementary.  Moreover, farmers' markets are a proven way to develop resilient and healthy communities and economies. Developing the Farmers' Market helps keep our historical agricultural properties in use, supports the families that care for them, and helps to educate consumers on the many benefits of 'going local.' All donations to the local Farmers' Market will underwrite the costs for vendors to participate. We know that local producers, especially new and beginning farmers, have tight profit margins, so we wholeheartedly support the use of donated funds for that purpose.”

A boon to downtown commerce
Conway town manager Earl Sires this week echoed a comment made by others such as Janice Crawford, executive director of the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, in saying that they believe the new market will add to downtown commerce.
“There were some concerns by selectmen early on but I don't think they were aimed at the whole concept of a farmers' market — it was more about the logistics associated with it,” said Sires this week. “I think those have been worked out. From an economic development perspective, I think it will foster local agriculture while serving as a gathering space for the community. The town wishes them good luck. I think farmers' markets in general do a lot for downtown economic development.”
Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of agricultural development for the state Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food in Concord, said this week that North Conway's new farmers' market joins a list of 65 throughout the state.
“Farmers' markets have grown pretty steadily since the mid-1990s,” said Jellie, a graduate of Keene State College who previously worked for New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. “A lot of Main Street programs have encouraged communities to establish farmers' markets as a way to revitalize downtown areas and to draw people to the villages, not only to enjoy the markets but to enjoy other businesses in the area.”
Her office lends marketing and logistical support to statewide markets. Hjelmstad and Jellie have been in touch this week, outlining plans for the new North Conway market.
Jellie's thoughts were shared by the MWV Chamber's Crawford, who gave a plug for the new North Conway market at this past Tuesday's monthly Chamber After Hours, held at the Frontside Grind in North Conway Village.
“I think the market will bring traffic into the village on a Sunday. People will stop here after church; some will come into town for the market. I think this is a worthy activity to have in the village,” said Crawford. “We have several local farm stands as well which add to our agricultural story which adds to our local economic development. I think this is a great thing, and hopefully next year with a year under their belt we'll see it grow into something even bigger.”
Ryan Sommer, executive director of the North Conway Community Center, said his board is pleased to be working with the new organization.
“We're all for it,” said Sommer, who said the center will continue to host its crafts fairs and tent sales, as well as the Sunday farmers markets. “It's ideal to have this at the community center,” added Sommer, “because part of our mission statement is bring the community together by offering community activities.”
For more information about the market, visit North Conway Farmers' Market on Facebook, or email North Conway Farmers' Market at gmail.com.
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Nearby markets wish North Conway well
The new North Conway Farmers' Market joins other local markets in nearby Jackson (Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.); Effingham/Center Ossipee (Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), and Tamworth. Markets are also held in Lovell, Maine (Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.); Berlin (Thursdays, 3 to 7 p.m.); Laconia (Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon), Laconia Outdoor Marketplace (Thursdays, 3 to 7 p.m.); Wakefield (Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and Wolfeboro (Thursdays, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.), all of which are part of the 65-member N.H. Farmers' Market Association.
Kathy Meyers of the Jackson Farmers' Market said Jackson's market is slated to open June 28 and will operate Saturday mornngs through Columbus Day Weekend, when the market will be open both Saturday and Sunday.
“We've found a good mix of locals and visitors every week, people from throughout the world,” said Meyers. “The business community has been very supportive as well.”
Bob Streeter and Peg Loughran of the Tamworth Farmers' Market concur that farmers' markets are as much a social happening as a place of local commerce.
Loughran said Thursday that the Tamworth Market originated from discussions held in the mid-2000s about sustaining Tamworth as a community. The market began in 2007, and has grown to now feature about 25 vendors. The market has become a gathering place for the community, says Loughran.
“Other than town meeting, or big sports events, you don't get to see your neighbors out and about in one place in a rural community like Tamworth. With the market, everyone comes, and there's socializing, but people also have a purpose — shopping, and there's something about it that really, really works,” said Loughran, who notes that after late October, the market moves indoors  and operates year-round.
"I think North Conway's market will add to the local commerce; it all adds to one another," said Loughran. "I know that at least three of our vendors will also participate in North Conway's. With our market and Jackson's on Saturdays, and North Conway's on Sundays, it will wake up the valley from north to south,” said Loughran.
The new markets will add to the valley's exisitng farmstands operated in East Conway by the Sherman Farm, Weston's in Fryeburg, Maine, and West Side Road, Whitaker Farmstand in Conway, and Pietree Orchard in nearby Sweden, Maine, to name a few. Also part of the “growing” movement is Schartner's, which operates a pick-your-own strawberry operation and stand off West Side Road in North Conway.
The state Department of Agriculture lists the state's 65 markets on its web site, ww.http://agriculture.nh.gov.
The farmers' markets are part of a farm-to-table trend that has been embraced by many. The independent Valley Originals group of local restaurants held a meeting this past winter with local farmers, led by Margarita Grill, which has been recognized by the N.H. Lodging and Restaurant Association for its pro-environment practices, as has the Local Grocer of North Conway.
Also part of the trend is the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce's MWV Green Team, which in recent years has opened community gardens in the valley.
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