The Portland Farmers’ Market opened its outdoor season on a summerlike Saturday at Deering Oaks, sweeping away one of the longest, most isolated winters in memory with a light- and music-filled day of celebration.

Booths selling flowers, honey, vegetables, grass-fed beef and bread lined one side of the walkway, with buskers on the other – a violinist, a drummer, a guitar-strumming folk singer, and a New Orleans jazz band called the Hadacol Bouncers.

Molly Simpson of Dandelion Spring Farm in Bowdoinham collects an order of carrots, beets and mini lettuce for a customer on Saturday as the Portland Farmers’ Market opened up at Deering Oaks. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Cindy Creps, a flower vendor from Hebron, stood by an empty table around noon. Her bunches of tulips and mixed flowers, from Meadow Ridge Perennial and Cut Flower Farm, sold out quickly, scooped up by a healthy-sized crowd on the sunny, high-60s day.

“We had a table full of flowers and they’re all gone. People are excited to be back,” Creps said.

“And we did our shopping, too,” she added.

Creps, who is 60, said she changed her grocery habits during the pandemic. When she visits the supermarket, she writes a thorough list, waits until early-morning hours reserved for seniors, and gets in and out as quickly as possible. Otherwise, it’s over to the neighboring farm stand for fresh supplies.

Signs along the walkway asked attendees to wear masks, keep their distance, avoid touching food and stay home if they felt sick.

Around the corner, Erin Masterson and her husband, Nick Viti, paused to ponder an aloe vera plant.

“Tell me about taking care of it,” she said to the vendor.

“Ah,” he replied. “Benevolent neglect.”

A few minutes later, Viti and Masterson walked away with the plant, explaining its qualities to their young children, Desi and Revel. The South Portland residents said they had frequented area farmers markets for a decade, which meant the pandemic had done little to change their habits.

Peter Dunphy and the Hadacol Bouncers entertain visitors at the first open Portland Farmers’ Market of the year at Deering Oaks Park. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“It’s a great day to get out, enjoy the sun, and support local growers,” Viti said.

The vendor who sold them the aloe, Mark Heidmann, said Saturday had exceeded his expectations. Thanks to good weather and perhaps also to reduced fear of COVID-19, opening day 2021 was better for sales than the year before, he said.

And Heidmann, who owns Maple Springs Farm in Harrison, hadn’t even brought his specialty: tomatoes.

Heidmann grows 70 – “That’s seven-zero,” he said – varieties of tomatoes up beyond Sebago Lake. Asked which was his favorite, he took a long pause. The two “sexiest” slicer tomatoes that he grows have decidedly unalluring names, he said: BHN 589 and JTO-99197.

BHN 589, his second favorite, was bred by much larger growers down South, Heidmann said, and is “one of the most productive, disease-resistant, flavorful tomatoes around.”

Aficionados of locally grown produce will have to wait for his tomatoes, however; Heidmann doesn’t sell tomatoes, or in some cases plant them, until mid-May.

Around that time, on May 19, the market will move to Payson Park on Wednesdays and Saturdays to avoid the return of the browntail moth. Browntail caterpillars shed hairs that can cause itching and respiratory problems for humans, and the city plans to close the park altogether for one to two days to spray pesticides.

The move to Payson Park, located on the northern shore of Portland’s Back Cove, is scheduled to last until June 26.


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