The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has found a permanent home for its organic marketplace in Freeport, offering Common Ground Country Fair merchandise, food items, kitchenware and handmade goods along with new workshops.

Relying on the success of its pop-up store in town from November 2020 to January 2021, MOFGA opened the permanent location at the Bartol Library building at 55 Main St. this summer and had an official opening Nov. 18.

The Maine Organic Marketplace has about 50 vendors, including Celebration Tree Farm in Durham; Casco Totes, which makes tote bagsĀ  from recycled sails and is based in Freeport; and Salt + Wool, a Brunswick company that makes hats with a blend of wool from alpacas and Coopworth sheep. Among the other merchandise are bowls, utensils, towels, soaps, notecards, maple syrup and jams.

Lucy Cayard, the store manager, said the market provides an alternative for vendors who usually sell at the Common Ground Country Fair, which has been canceled two years in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fair plans to make a comeback Sept. 23-25 next year.

“We really hope it provides another sustainable and productive market for the vendors,” Cayard said. “All our vendors are living and working in Maine, so it keeps the money local.”

Copper Tail Farm, based in Waldoboro, just started selling its products, which include goat milk lotion and a goat milk caramel sauce called cajeta, at the market in October.

“So far MOFGA has been great and easy to work with. We had decent sales in October,” the farm’s Christelle McKee said. “I chose to participate since the in-person fair was canceled and I thought the customers who shopped at the MOFGA store would be customers interested in my products.”

MOFGA, a statewide nonprofit that educates about and advocates for organic agriculture, also is offering new, in-person, workshops at the market. Classes in herbal tea blending, garlic braiding and wreath making have been held since it opened in July, and three more workshops are before the new year. All events can be found on MOFGA’s website at mofga.org. Cayard said she hopes the workshops help make the marketplace more of a “community space.”

“I hope it exposes people to different kinds of products made in Maine and they see the wide array of things we produce in the state,” Cayard said. “I also hope it gives people a new “in” to MOFGA and maybe they come see our fair in the fall. I’d like to see the community expand here.”

Town Manager Peter Joseph said the marketplace is exactly the type of venture the town wanted to fill the space that formerly housed Abercrombie & Fitch, which closed last summer. The casual clothing retailer was one of many businesses to close shop in recent years in the town known for its outlet stores.

The vacancy rate for businesses in downtown Freeport was 12.38% as of June this year, Keith McBride, executive director of Freeport Economic Development Corporation told the Times Record in June. That’s compared to a vacancy rate of 8.6% in 2015.

“We gave a lot of consideration to local businesses and nonprofits that would use the space and not be as competitive as a retail outlet,” Joseph said. “We did that because there’s been a big push in town to recruit and fill spaces with small vendors that have a local flavor. MOFGA fits all those categories. They do a great job supporting local producers and artisans and bringing all those kinds of people to Freeport was really compelling.”

Similar stores in the area include Royal River Natural Foods in Freeport and Morning Glory Natural Foods in Brunswick. Laughing Stock Farm, a farm in Freeport that sells local, organic produce and food, recently closed its doors for the winter for the first time in 25 years. It will reopen in spring 2022.

Despite the potential for local competition, Cayard said Freeport is an ideal location for the store since it’s a “shopping-focused town.” She said business was slow when the shop opened in July but started to pick up in October and has remained busy. With the holidays and knowing how busy they were with the pop-up store during this season last year, she expects business to remain positive into the new year.

The marketplace is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Cayard said hours might change after January, so shoppers should check MOFGA’s website for any updates.

 

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