Cityseed launched the state’s first year-round farmer’s market Saturday when it opened its Wooster Square market for the first time in January.
The market appeared to have a successful debut, attracting residents from a variety of different neighborhoods and economic backgrounds. While the market will only open once a month for the winter, the turnout may bode well for future sales during the cold season.
Some of the produce comes from abundant stores of summer and fall crops, while other crops were grown more recently in greenhouses. But since this winter has been mild, many of the crops at Saturday’s market were grown in the ground. In addition to vegetable produce, farmers sold a variety of products that can be made irrespective of weather, including meats, milk, cheeses, jams, and even soaps.
“There were all the ingredients for a complete, nutritious dinner,” CitySeed Executive Director Jennifer McTiernan H. said.
After realizing that many local farmers had stores of winter crops without markets for selling them, CitySeed conducted years of trials assessing the feasibility of a winter market, McTiernan H. said. When the market opened in 2004, CitySeed decided to experiment with keeping the market open for a short time in the winter. In 2005, it was open for an even longer period, from May through December.
McTiernan H. said she was optimistic about the market’s future, explaining that many farmers did not expect a good turnout on Saturday but still sold all of the produce they brought to market.
“The farmers have a dedicated basis of market-goers,” she said.
The real challenge, it seems, was getting customers to come to market in the winter, when other farmer’s markets shut down.
Some patrons may have been attracted by the possibility of using food stamps to buy produce at the market. In June 2005, the Wooster Square market became the first farmers’ market in the state to implement a system that allows buyers to use food stamps. McTiernan H. called it a “logistical challenge” — buyers must swipe cards, and then receive wooden coins to buy food — but stressed that it was well worth the effort. The policy makes the market accessible to the whole community, she said, giving poorer people the chance to eat healthily.
“One of the goals of CitySeed is to educate people,” said Daniel Fromson ’09, the coordinator for CitySeed’s Seed to Table program. “The food stamp program makes locally grown food available to the poorest people, who traditionally have the worst diets.”
Charles Alvarez ’09 , who spent the summer working at CitySeed as a president’s public service fellow, emphasized the vital role that the market plays in the New Haven area. “It’s not just another store,” he said. “It’s a way of helping the community. Without these markets, some communities would not have access to fresh, healthy foods.”
The market, which only opens on the third Saturday of each winter month, will next be held on Feb. 17.