January 8

Natural Foodie: In the middle of frigid winter, farmers market’s in full bloom

The new Portland location adds the Urban Farm Fermentory vendors’ prepared foods, baked goods and more.

Attendance has tripled, sales are up and, yes, you can buy coffee. It seems the Portland winter market has finally found its stride.

click image to enlarge

A customer selects a turnip at the Buckwheat Blossom Farm stand at the Portland winter market held in the Urban Farm Fermentory’s food hub on Saturdays.

Avery Yale Kamila photo

click image to enlarge

The Swallowtail Farm Cottage Apothecary, one of four food hub tenants, sells Maine-grown and wild-harvested dried herbs, tinctures and elixirs.

Avery Yale Kamila photo

Additional Photos Below



WHEN: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday through April 19

WHERE: Urban Farm Fermentory, 200 Anderson St., Portland

INFO: portlandmainefarmersmarket.org and on Facebook

The market was swamped with 3,000 shoppers on opening day in early December at its new location, the Urban Farm Fermentory’s food hub. Last year the very busiest day at the market saw only 1,000 people come through the door.

“It’s such a big improvement from last year,” said Lauren Pignatello, who farms at Swallowtail Farm and Creamery in Whitefield and manages the winter market. “I’m so happy with it.”

Last season the market took place in the basement of the Irish Heritage Center. That’s a visible location on State Street in the West End, but has few nearby food businesses compared to the Wednesday farmers market in Monument Square or the winter market’s new home in the heart of the East Bayside food scene.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays the Anderson Street building buzzes with shoppers. The difference this year is that in addition to the usual vegetables, cheeses and meats sold by the farmers, shoppers can now buy bread, pies, cookies, smoothies, popsicles, dried herbs, medicinal elixirs and (finally) Coffee by Design coffee.

“Our sales are all up from last year,” Pignatello said.

She attributes the increased sales to the fact that shoppers can purchase baked goods and prepared foods from the food hub tenants.

“It’s more social,” said Pignatello, an herbalist who also runs the Swallowtail Farm Cottage Apothecary in the food hub. “People can still get their really high-quality farm food and have a coffee and buy a bagel. Everyone benefits – the (food hub) businesses and the farmers alike.”

Last year, Pignatello, a mother of six, got up at 3 a.m. on winter market days to make doughnuts and bagels in an effort to appease customer demand for prepared foods and help boost mediocre sales.

“People would come to the market and say there was nothing to eat,” Pignatello said. “It was rough, and we’re not allowed to serve coffee.”

Most winter markets in Maine offer a mix of farm products, prepared foods and craft items. However, in Portland strict city regulations govern farmers markets and prohibit sales by nonfarm vendors, including bakers and fishermen.

Portland’s winter market started out small, with four farmers providing every-other-week subscription service. Customers placed orders via email and then had to wait in line outside in the cold and snow to pick up their food.

In 2010 Pignatello was part of a group that found an indoor venue for the winter market, a vacant storefront on Free Street facing the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Pignatello and the other organizers, who were all involved in the successful Brunswick winter market, encountered a number of permitting and regulatory difficulties in Portland.

The market eventually opened that year, but the city prevented bakers from being part of it. The following year the market moved to the West End.

Because this year’s winter market is taking place at the food hub, the bakeries can sell their wares during the market. And Bomb Diggity Bakery sells coffee.

“The Irish Heritage Center was wonderful and they were such nice people, but we didn’t have ample parking and there wasn’t a lot of room for growth,” Pignatello said.

The new location has a parking lot and on-street parking. Outside the market entrance, two food trucks (usually El Corazon and Cafe Crepe) sell portable brunch fare.

The Small Axe food truck is typically set up just down the street at Tandem Coffee Roasters.

Plans are in the works to install a large greenhouse at the back of the Urban Farm Fermentory, which also will be open during market hours.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Eli Cayer, founder of the Urban Farm Fermentory on Anderson Street in Portland, pours a kombucha sample during a winter market.

Avery Yale Kamila photo


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