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Organizers of Farmers Market Announce Possible Shutdown This Summer

As old guard prepares to retire, no one steps up to replace them

 

By Wiley Wood

Three key players in the Norfolk Farmers Market organization announced in an interview that they are considering the possibility of closing down the market after this winter’s season for lack of manpower to keep it running.

“We would rather shut down the Farmers Market completely than see it decline gradually,” said Sue Frisch, who founded the market almost singlehandedly 10 years ago and has served as chairman of its steering committee ever since. Schuyler Thomson and Lisa Auclair, leading members of the committee, agreed.

The market brings about 30 vendors to the lawn at Town Hall every Saturday from May to October and draws hundreds of shoppers, mostly Norfolk residents, sometimes with their children, dogs and weekend guests in tow, as well as visitors from neighboring towns, .

The market always features a live musical act, and there is generally coffee, lemonade, a hot dog cart and a strong showing of local food producers and craftsmen. You can buy artisan goat cheese, local maple syrup, salad greens, shiitaki mushrooms, organic veal, baked goods, sweet and savory preserves, native plants. And crafts.

“We knew we would have to make it a destination market,” says Lisa Auclair, “because Norfolk is not really on the way to anywhere else.” The organizers prepare special events on many market days: local chefs, using an improvised outdoor kitchen, will offer food samples; or cookbook authors will do the same, while signing books; there can be funfair booths, where town elders take their turn in the dunking tank; and there is the ever-popular Dog Days event.

The whole three-ringed circus is mounted by a part-time manager and her assistant, who make the schedule, recruit vendors and collect fees. Everything else, from publicity, to policy decisions, to maintaining the website, to “helping with the tents and lugging pumpkins” (in the words of Schuyler Thomson), is done by volunteers and members of the steering committee.

When the market started 10 years ago, Auclair points out, one of its goals was to encourage local agriculture, and there were no food-producing farms in Norfolk. Now there are three within the town limits: Broad Field Farm (tomatoes), Husky Meadows (produce), and Lost Ruby Farm (goat cheese).

But the forecasts of the market organizers are dire. They tell the story of the Coventry farmers market, which was the model for every other market in the state. Wildly inventive in their special events and enormously successful in their publicity, they drew thousands to Coventry every week. Then the market shut down. Abruptly. Its organizers exhausted themselves and could find no one to take their place. After a lapse of a year, the market returned on a reduced scale.

Frisch and Thomson have both announced plans to retire from their duties. And recently Theresa Cannavo, the market’s manager, announced that she is retiring at year’s end to pursue other interests. “We still have dreams,” says Auclair, but all agree that the market has reached a tipping point and that its future is threatened.

“It will rapidly reach the point of failure if we don’t get a new influx of youth and energy,” says Thompson.

Anyone willing to volunteer their time and talents to the Farmers Market steering committee is urged to contact Sue Frisch at 860-542-6076, Schuyler Thomson at 860-542-5081, or Lisa Auclair at 860-542-5440. And anyone wishing to apply for the job of market manager is urged to do the same.

Meanwhile, the traditional Holiday Famers Market will be held in Battell Chapel on Dec. 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be a profusion of craft items and home-grown foods, as well as lunch, catered by Jody Marinelli of the Colebrook Store, and live music.

A new season of Indoor Farmers Markets begins on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, upstairs at Town Hall.

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