September 29, 2010

Farmers' market revisited: Story touched lots of nerves

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

I knew last week's Soup to Nuts column on the Saturday farmers' market at Deering Oaks would get a reaction, but I was unprepared for the empathetic outpouring from readers who agreed with me.

My e-mail and voice mail boxes quickly filled up with messages like this one from Jeff Wilson of South Portland: "FINALLY someone wrote about the Saturday Farmers' Market! Praise to you!! I agree with everything you wrote about!"

There were lots of exclamation points.

Frankly, I figured I would get mostly negative responses to a column that raises questions about whether the Saturday market should be expanded, or have longer hours to ease crowding issues and make shopping easier for consumers.

Not only did most readers agree, many people said they either don't go to the market as often as they used to or have stopped going altogether because they're tired of looking for parking, dealing with uncontrolled pets and negotiating around people who are socializing right next to the squash bin.

I learned an important lesson this week: consumers don't really have much of a voice in this situation, and they want one. They recognize how great our local farmers' market is, but they don't want it to be a sacred cow that never grows or changes.

Christine Sullivan of Portland calls the space issue "a problem begging for a solution."

"I am a serious vegetable shopper and I've given up on Saturdays because it just isn't practical to bike home with all the veggies I need," she wrote. "I try to make it to the Wednesday market, but it's much less convenient to leave work."

"Parking at the Saturday market has always been a bugaboo for me," wrote Nancy Martin of Cape Elizabeth in an e-mail. "I'd love extended hours."

Another reader suggested farmers come in morning and afternoon shifts so it would be easier to expand the hours.

PhyllisY wrote in the comments section online: "I love the FM, but it seems to be a place to be seen now, rather than a place to buy food."

"Gritty" said: "I usually go at 7 a.m. to avoid the posers, side-shows and the 'see & be seen-ers.' Last Saturday, I was running late all morning and didn't get there until 10 a.m. Definitely a good reminder to go early the place was packed and not enjoyable at all."

"THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!" read the e-mail from Beatrice Nyce of Saco, who describes herself and her husband as "strong supporters of the farmers' market."

Nyce related a couple of not-so-nice stories about uncontrolled dogs at the Saturday market. I'll just share one: "As we were about to purchase some vegetables, we witnessed a woman holding up her dog to smell the green peppers. The dog proceeded to lick the peppers, while the owner watched. She then put the peppers back in the box and did not purchase them. We put our vegetables back and left. On our way out, we saw a dog owner letting his dog urinate on a tree aside of produce."

Now, before this goes any further, let me get a few things straight: I love dogs, and I adore children. By all means, bring them to the market with you. And I love to socialize with friends at the farmers' market too.

It's just that there are these things called boundaries

Caitlin Hunter, owner of Appleton Creamery, doesn't come to the Portland market but is a vendor in six others around the state. She sent me a message on my Facebook page suggesting some more "farmers' market etiquette" for consumers:

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