This week instead of dragging a shopping cart through the supermarket, stocking up on orange juice or blueberries on sale, take your family to one of Rhode Island’s flourishing farmers’ markets. Instead, bring home some Bok choi (Chinese cabbage) or pawpaw, a pear-shaped yellow fruit, which is harvested in the fall. And while you’re shopping in the fresh air, you can pick up local baked goods, and even catnip!
If there was a time to buy local, it’s now. More vendors are being represented in more markets.
Peter Susi, deputy director for the R.I. Department of Agriculture, said a few years ago there were only “10 or so markets, now we are approaching 60.”
The recent growth of farmers’ markets can be attributed to a variety of stimuli. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered states the Specialty Crop Block Grant. Susi explained that the grant allows farmers to produce specialty crops they could otherwise not afford to grow. Now farmers can offer more diverse crops at the local farmers’ markets. Susi also credits the Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, which in 2011 gave the state $281,155 to provide low-income seniors with coupons to be used at local farmers’ markets, and the WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, which provides similar coupons for women, infants and children.
Additionally, Susi explained, “farmers are starting to grow in greenhouses, and it extends their growing season,” and as a result, Rhode Island now has three year-round farmers’ markets.
When asked if the department had any plans to help the already rapidly growing markets, Susi said funding has become a problem but they are working with the R.I. Seafood Collaborative to get more local seafood into the farmers’ markets. Many farm products can be found at local farm stands, but the farmers’ markets offer a level of diversity unlike anywhere else in the state.
Captain Richard Cook, owner and operator of The Local Catch Inc., said there is a “high demand for local” fish and seafood. He praised the Agriculture Department and its director, Ken Ayers, for pushing local seafood into farmers markets. Since The Local Catch Inc. started selling their food at farmers’ markets, the company has “expanded three-fold,” said Cook. He added, “we have such diverse seafood” in the area, but “markets don’t carry local fish.”
Joe Blum, an employee of The Local Catch, operated one of the stands at the Rhodes on Pawtuxet market last Saturday. Along with offering a diverse selection of fish, Joe was informing customers, or just people curious to learn more, where the fish was caught and how it could be prepared. To top off the experience, Local Catch places your purchase in a container with crushed ice, so it’ll stay fresh on the ride home.
Bernard Bieder has been keeping beehives since the end of the 1980s and has offered his honey and wax at local farmers’ markets for years, said his wife Audrey Bieder. She added, “Sales increased in the past two to three years.” Increases, Audrey claimed, came from more people seeing their products at farmers’ markets and spreading the word.
As the quality of local foods shines above the rest, farmers’ markets are growing in size and number. Susi speculated that “contaminations” of larger food suppliers might give Rhode Islanders an extra incentive to buy local and fresh.
“Buyers can talk to the people growing what they eat,” he said.
If you go to a farmer’s market this week, you’re not just stimulating the local economy; you’re getting the freshest food around.
Farmers’ markets in the area include The Goddard Park Farmer’s Market, located in Warwick (Fridays 9 a.m.-1 p.m. May to October); Pawtuxet Village Farmer’s Market in the Rhodes on the Pawtuxet Parking lot (Saturdays 9 a.m.-12 p.m. May to November); Whole Foods Farmer’s Market on 151 Sockanosset Cross Rd., Cranston (Tuesdays 3 p.m.-dusk May to October); and Johnston Farmer’s Market at Johnston Memorial Park on Hartford Ave. (Mondays 2-6 p.m. July to October) are only a few of the many farmers’ markets that sell fresh and local food. A full list of R.I. farmers’ markets can be found at the Department of Agriculture’s website.
@C_Cutline:THE SWEET TOUCH: Harry Dolan and Jim Hart sample different honeys at Bernard Bieder’s display at the farmers’ market held Saturday mornings at the Rhodes on the Pawtuxet parking lot. (Cranston Herald photos)
FRESH FROM RHODE ISLAND WATERS: The Local Catch Inc. was just about cleaned out within the first two hours of the Pawtuxet Farmer’s Market last Saturday. Here, Joe Blum talks with a customer, providing information not only on how the fish might be prepared but where it was caught.
BUYING LOCAL IS BLOOMING: Farmers’ markets are booming. According to the state, there are about 60 of them across Rhode Island.