Contributed by Katy Morris
There are so many things to love about the Westport Farmers’ Market and with the summer market opening last Thursday we were lucky to snatch a little time with Lori Cochran Dougall, Market Director, so she could TELL US MORE about this thriving local shopping and dining experience.
We wanted to know why THIS market is so unique among farmers’ markets.
How’d you get started in all of this? Your commitment is commendable!
My mom always loved farmers’ markets and good food and she instilled that same love in me. She taught me the importance of supporting the local community. I am so excited – actually humbled – to be part of the Westport Farmers’ Market.
Tell us a little about the history of the market.
It was first opened by Paul Newman and chef Michel Nischan in 2006 with just 14 vendors, and now, almost 10 years later, that number has more than doubled. The Town of Westport was instrumental in starting the market, too. They gave the seed money, the location, and continue to support our efforts. We are proud that the Westport Farmers’ Market is now an independent 501c3.
We couldn’t do it without the support of so many committed community members including Rebecca Howe who was instrumental in forming the market from the beginning and is now the Chairman of our nine person board. And former Second Selectwoman, Shelly Kassen, had the vision, passion and skills to move the market to it’s current location and change it’s status to a non-profit entity.
What makes the market so unique?
We offer a place where you can buy the finest homegrown, local produce & artisan foods, and where you have a chance to talk directly to the producer. Think about walking down a grocery store aisle: the cold shopping cart, no one engaging each other, piles of product with empty metal behind them…
Now think about a farmers’ market: you have a friendly face behind the booth, you can be confident that your dollar is staying within your community, and that you are getting REAL food that tastes good. To me, that’s what it’s all about.
We have very strict guidelines (we’ve actually been told they are amongst the strictest in CT!) that our vendors must follow so we know customers are getting the highest quality, freshest local products possible and that our vendor community is supporting one another.
How do you make sure the vendors are abiding by these guidelines?
We do our best to ensure our vendors are following our guidelines while respecting their own business model, of course. We request receipts and invoices to check against the amount of product that is being brought to the market, and most of the time, our farmers will tell me directly who is buying from them.
What do you think about the Westport Farmers’ Market being a “community hub”?
I love it! In my mind, if people start to meet at the WFM and have conversations around the community about the importance and benefits of local food, that would mean we have been successful.
I strongly believe in community and that we can truly affect change locally. A farmers’ market can plant the seed for a healthier lifestyle – new friendships, volunteering, etc. It just feels good! The fact that close to 700 people came out in the freezing rain on opening day tells us that people love shopping and socializing this way.
Can you tell us a little about what it means to be “organic”? There are so many terms thrown around these days like “all natural”, etc.
All of our vegetable farmers are organic, which is a certification by our government. We strive to have as many organic vendors in our market as possible but of course recognize that the certification process entails considerable cost and time.
Honestly, the term “All Natural” cracks me up when I see it on products at grocery stores. The unfortunate thing is that many people interpret that as a positive term and do not realize that some of the things with that label are filled with chemicals and unnatural products.
I recommend, and actually beg, that people talk to the person they are buying from to see what they are using in their products. If you are at another farmers market, find out what guidelines they have and how they are being enforced. We (the shopper/eater) have to be our own advocates and vendors and farmers at farmers markets, that are legit, want to talk about their product.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
Some of our challenges have been creating a sustainable business model, raising money, and getting more people to the market. We have an endless untapped audience in the area. I would love to see the Westport Farmers’ Market be known as the best one around – where you can enjoy interesting company of neighbors and farmers, munch on a morning snack or sit down for lunch and buy your food for the entire week.
50 Imperial Avenue
10am-2pm every Thursday ( 5/22 through 11/6)
Note that the market’s website is currently under construction, but check back on June 1st to see the full vendor list.
Facts about Farmers’ Markets:
- According to the USDA, nearly one million customers visit farmers’ markets each week across the country.
- Roughly 20,000 farmers sell their produce at farmers’ markets.
- On average, a given vegetable travels about 2,000 miles from field to table. In contrast, the USDA estimates that produce sold at farmers’ markets travels less than 50 miles.
Regular Vendors (highlighted vendors are those we have written about):
The Local Catch – Charlestown, RI
Two Guys From Woodbridge – Hamden, CT
Sanskow’s Beaver Brook Farm – Lyme, CT
Skinny Pines, LLC – Easton, CT
Riverbank Farm – Roxbury, CT
Sono Baking Company – South Norwalk CT
Fort Hill Farm – New Milford, CT
Beltane Farm – Lebanon, CT
Arogya – Westport, CT
Woodland Farm – South Glastonbury, CT
The Stand – Fairfield, CT
Boxcar Cantina – Greenwich, CT
Sport Hill Farm – Easton, CT
Oxhollow Farm – Roxbury, CT
Huckleberry Artisan Pastries – Bridgeport, CT
Rose’s Berry Farm – Glastonbury, CT
Raus Coffee Company – Stamford, CT
Mystic Cheese Company –Mystic, CT
Aradia Farm – Southbury, CT
Sugar & Olives – Norwalk, CT
Wave Hill Bread – Norwalk, CT
Muddy Feet Flower Farm – Ashford, CT
Backy 40 Kitchen – Greenwich, CT
Simply Delicious – Norwalk, CT
OM Champagne Tea – Bedford, NY
Silvermine Apairy – Norwalk, CT
Moorefield Herb Farm – Monroe, CT
Doc’s Maple Syrup – Woodhill, NY
Flour City Pasta – Fairport, NY
Nutty Bunny – Westport, CT
Farm 2 Jars – Redding, CT
Molly & Murphy – Trumbull, CT
Greenwich Food Company – Greenwich, CT
Bounty Truck – Fairfield, CT
Izzi B Desserts – Westport, CT
With Love From The Cupboard – Westport, CT
Olive Oil of the World – Westport, CT
Lobstercraft – Norwalk, CT
Carrot Top Kitchens – Redding, CT