August 17, 2009
Farmers markets finding their niches
With a second market opened this year, local residents have more choices for produce
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cheryl Wright, left, of Cortland browses the produce offered by Joan Franklin and Mindy Farnham, right, of Valley View Farms in Scott at the Main Street Farmers Market on Saturday.
Set up under one of perhaps a dozen awnings around Dexter Park’s basketball court Saturday, Joe and Wendy Rizzo displayed their wares on a table: chanterelles, chicken mushrooms, hen-of-the-woods, and several varieties of oyster mushrooms.
The Rizzos own “Blue Oyster Cultivators,” an Ithaca-based mushroom cultivating company, which they bring to the East End Farmers Market every Saturday.
Their specialty mushrooms, some of which they cultivate and grow on their own and some they forage, are hard to find anywhere else.
“We’re kind of the only mushroom game in town,” said Joe Rizzo, who until last year was a junior high school science teacher in Brooklyn.
Business has been picking up since the East End Farmers Market began June 13, said Lisa Lickona, one of the market’s organizers, to the point that there is group of “regulars” who show up every weekend.
“People are looking for organically-grown food, and to support local growers,” Lickona said.
The success of the East End market has apparently not come at the expense of Cortland’s established farmers market, which is held Saturdays and Tuesdays on Main Street. Joan Franklin, one of the market’s managers, said it will celebrate its 37th anniversary in September this year.
“There’s been no change in the dynamic here,” she said. “We had our customers who like it on Main Street, and they’ve found their customers who prefer it out there.”
On Main Street, local grower and teacher Tim Sandstrom said he was surprised by the amount of traffic. Since the Jets are temporarily out of town, and with the Brockway Truck show drawing people downtown a week ago Saturday, he said he had thought few people would make the trip downtown this weekend. Happily, he found he was wrong.
“We’ve done very well, we’ve been really busy,” he said.
Lickona, who owns a small farm in McGraw, said the aim of the East End market has not been to draw traffic away from the Main Street market, but rather to expand the availability of direct-from-the-grower products.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re trying to expand the local market, not take business away from them,” she said.
The response so far has been positive, she said, but there’s room for growth.
“My conviction is that you have to give something like this two or three years to get established,” she said. “Farmers have to develop their niche.”
Among vendors and managers at both markets, the consensus was that nation-wide interest in local markets is on the rise, but theories as to why this might be varied.
Franklin said that one draw is the fact that shoppers can speak directly with the grower or producer, which has become popular in the wake of several large-scale E. coli outbreaks in recent years.
“The produce can all be traced right back to where it was grown, if need be,” she said.
Lickona said supermarket produce prices reflect not only the cost of production, but also the costs of shipping it over long distances — which also impacts the foods’ quality and freshness.
“Local also means better-tasting,” she said.
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