By Analiese Paik
Parked cars lined both sides of Brewster Street leading up to the field at St. Ann Church that is home to the newly minted Black Rock Farmers’ Market. I had to park a few short side streets away, which gave me a bird’s eye view of the sidewalk scene: families pushing children in strollers laden with the day’s haul, girlfriends chatting happily as they headed home with market bags slung over their shoulders, and in the background a grassy field bustling with shoppers at the market. This place was hopping!
“I am so pleased. Farmers were coming up to me by 10:30 saying they were sold out. They normally go home with food” said market co-founder Michelle Margo. “It’s better than I ever dreamed” said co-founder Karyn Leito. “To have the community support it this way is a blessing. It’s like a dream come true.”
One Tuesday evening last summer, as Michelle and Karyn were sipping wine and enjoying cheese with their husbands at St. Ann’s field during a summer concert hosted by the church, the idea for the market was born. They knew the church wanted to do something community based and they wanted to start a farmers’ market. It was a match made in heaven.
Before announcing any plans, Michelle reached out to Patti Popp of Sport Hill Farm about becoming their anchor farmer. “We knew that if we had her, we could do this” said Michelle, who had known Patti for over 20 years and participates in her CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. Patti agreed right away and even approached other vendors while vouching for the duo and their ability to pull this off.
“We floated the idea for the market on the Black Rock Community Facebook page and got an overwhelming response” said Karyn. “They voted for Saturday.” “Then we started a Black Rock Farmers’ Market Facebook page and it got 500 likes in 24 hours” said Michelle. “That was a sign to just keep going.”
One of my measures of a good farmers’ market is their selection of organic food and this market did not disappoint. Sport Hill Farm’s pristine, organic lettuces, Swiss chard and other produce; Shearwater Coffee Roaster’s organic, locally-roasted coffee beans; Source Coffeehouse’s fresh-brewed organic coffee along with 8 to the Bar’s granola bars; and Sabita’s artisanal organic teas are reason enough for organic shoppers to make the market a destination.
Victoria Marie Eastus is the owner and founder of Carrot Top Kitchens, a specialty food company that pickles and jars locally grown food in a commercial kitchen in Black Rock. “This community really supports community” said Victoria. “I felt strongly about doing this market because my food is made here.” The rhubarb chutney was sold out by the time I got there, but I nabbed a jar of the spiced, pickled rhubarb spears which she said paired particularly well with cheese. Zarrella Farms, Sherwood Farm, Holbrook Farm and Gazy Brothers Farm are some of the growers Victoria sources her vegetables and herbs from to make chutneys, pickles, and 14 varieties of hummus. “I’ll be making pickled watermelon rind later in the season. Food preservation is a throwback tradition, but I give it a modern day uplift with our flavor profiles.”
Black Rock Farmers’ Market is part of a collaborative of six Bridgeport-based farmers’ markets that is currently raising money from businesses and other donors to double the value of WIC and SNAP benefits up to $6 per person, per day for this season. “It’s an incentive for recipients to use their benefits rather than save them up. Each time they visit the market, a $6 purchase gets matching funds of $6 on the spot which doubles their purchasing power” said Michelle. By June 15, 120 Bridgeport buses will display posters and distribute flyers promoting the six markets, their acceptance of WIP and SNAP benefits, and the double value program. “The P.T. Barnum Apartments are half a mile away and we hope they’ll come” said Michelle. “This market is for the whole community.”
The Black Rock Farmers’ Market is currently accepting donations to fund their operations via St Ann’s Church. Feeling generous and community minded? Attend one of the upcoming fundraiser events, including Pizza for a Cause at Two Boots and another at Pepe’s (details TBA). Or write your check out to St. Ann’s Church and designate Black Rock Farmers’ Market Fund on the memo line. Donors interested in contributing to the farmers’ market collaborative, which will fund the double value program at all six markets, should contact Michelle Margo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in becoming a vendor, please contact market masters Michelle Margo and Karyn Leito at email@example.com. They want to fill the field! Musicians welcome.
Black Rock Farmers’ Market
St. Ann’s Field
481 Brewster Street
Bridgeport, CT 06605
Saturdays from 9-1 pm
June 7- October 25, 2014