Saturday, May 18, 2013
SOUTH PORTLAND – Despite the loss of two vendors because of low sales, farmers at the South Portland Farmers Market say they believe the market will continue to grow in its new location.
Caitlin Jordan of Alewive’s Brook Farm manages the South Portland Farmers Market, which is in its first year at a site with greater visibility near Mill Creek Park.
Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer
At top, Cathy Karonis of Fairwinds Farm in Topsham prepares produce at the marketplace on Thursday. While Karonis says she believes there is a potential customer base to be tapped into in South Portland, two vendors have left the market because of low customer counts.
The market, now in its second year, was moved to Hinckley Drive after vendors complained that the original location was too remote and wasn't easily accessible for the elderly because customers had to walk over cobblestones.
Most vendors say sales are up this year, but at least one is considering leaving if he doesn't start making money.
The City Council moved the market this year to the more visible location next to Mill Creek Park. Last year at Thomas Knight Park, the market initially attracted more than 1,000 people a week. But by August, fewer than 100 were showing up, according to market manager Caitlin Jordan.
Jordan isn't tracking attendance or sales this year, but said she sees new shoppers each week. On Thursday, shoppers began showing up a half-hour before the market opened. An hour later, about two dozen were wandering through the market, which is open from 3 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays.
City Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis, who opposed the move, said the market is "not going very well."
She said she thinks the success of the market is being hindered by this summer's construction in Mill Creek Park and a lack of marketing.
"I think it's dying a very slow and painful death," she said. "Every time I talk to people, they say there's nobody down there. It's like a ghost town."
Jordan said the market averages about 15 vendors each week and offers a wider variety of products than it did last year. About 60 percent of the vendors are new this year, and at least one more is expected to join in the next couple weeks.
She said it can take several years for a market to establish itself and develop a following.
"The market is doing better than expected," she said. "You've got to put a little time and get the citizens to commit. That's all you can ask for."
It is hard to tell how the construction in Mill Creek Park has affected the market, Jordan said, but she believes more customers will come after the improvement project is finished.
De Angelis said that having the market next to a construction zone makes it "not very inviting."
Stuart White, owner of White's Farm in Winterport, said he hasn't had a good week since he joined the market in May.
"It's not worth coming down here for $100 a day," he said. "If it doesn't markedly improve, we won't be here next season."
Sheldon Bubier of Bubier Family Farm in Greene left the market two weeks ago because "there were not enough sales to make it worth my while."
He lost money every week last summer, but agreed to give the market a second chance in the new location. He did not track how many customers he served each week.
"I thought the location would make a difference but it didn't," he said. "I don't think you could find a better location. I believe the citizens of the city of South Portland don't care about a farmers market and don't care if they support local agriculture."
For Cathy Karonis of Fairwinds Farm in Topsham, the market is a chance to develop a base of customers who will follow her to winter markets. She said her sales have increased since the start of the season, but she didn't have specific figures.
"We can see the potential here. They have a good following," she said. "I know it takes time for them to build up."
Dick Piper of Piper Ranch in Buckfield said he believes there would be more foot traffic if the city allowed market organizers to put up more signs. Jordan has applied for permission to put up temporary signs.
Shoppers at the market Thursday afternoon said they like the new location because there is plenty of parking and a wide variety of products.
"I think this location is better because it's out in the open and more people can see it," said Keri Lewis of South Portland after buying a bag of vegetables. "It's busier than last year."
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:
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Kareemi Atallah, left, 93, of South Portland, buys produce Thursday from Jodi Jordan of Alewive’s Brook Farm at the South Portland Farmers Market. Vendors at the Hinckley Drive site want to encourage more customers like Atallah, who says she shops at the market every week.