The colorful, festive appeal of community farmers markets has spread to nearly every corner of the country in recent years. According to federal statistics, the number of farmers markets operating in the U.S. has doubled in the last decade. But that’s something any Vermonter could have told you. The Burlington Farmers Market was established thirty years ago and, for three years running, South Burlington’s own seasonal farmers market has been held on Sundays, twice monthly, hosted by Healthy Living market on Dorset Street.
Why would a privately owned grocery store offer up the space and staff necessary to support a group of independent vendors who also sell their own food products directly to the public?
“Because it’s a natural extension of what we do,” says Eli Lesser-Goldsmith, owner and general manager of Healthy Living. “We have been part of the local food movement for thirty years. We truly want to support farmers. It helps to preserve the land, create vibrant farms, and puts beautiful meat, produce and poultry on our tables. We want farmers to be successful, and for their farms to become viable businesses. When we do that, everyone wins.” Healthy Living operates the South Burlington Farmers Market using the same by-laws and fee arrangements used in all local farmers markets, says Eli. The farmers walk away with 100 percent of their profits.
Healthy Living Market was established by Eli’s mother, Katie, in 1986. The first location was housed in a tiny storefront in the Blue Mall. Just a few years ago, it grew into its new home at 222 Dorset Street, a lavish, state-of-the-art natural foods supermarket, Vermont’s largest. Year-round, the market is stocked with an abundance of locally grown produce, meats, cheeses, baked goods, beers, wines, and prepared foods.
Trisha Hlastawa is a staff member at Healthy Living, and is the coordinator for the South Burlington Farmers Market. She uses social media—Facebook and Twitter—to promote the market and increase consumer awareness. Trisha is a senior at UVM, majoring in “public communications and community entrepreneurship.” “Food systems” is her minor. It’s a field of study that examines food, says Trisha, “from the roots of its raw state all the way to the consumer, and every step in between.” Like many in her generation, she sees agricultural sustainability and the production of safe, natural foods not just as a healthful trend, but also as a movement connected to larger environmental and geo-political issues. People need to understand where their food comes from, she says.
One of Trisha’s instructors is Dr. Jane Kolodinsky, professor of Consumer Economics at UVM, who says that food systems everywhere need to be better understood.
“The world is faced by some wicked problems when it comes to food,” says Kolodinsky, including epidemic obesity, food safety concerns, and a myriad of environmental issues that accompany food production and distribution. Many students today are interested in pursuing careers that will shed light on these complex problems. Kolodinsky chairs the university’s Food Systems Initiative steering committee, a group working to develop a Food Systems master’s degree program at UVM. Like Trisha Hlastawa at Healthy Living, says Kolodinsky, students are interested in both thinking about the issues, and in doing something about them
“We have a great group of vendors,” says Trisha. “The market gives farmers the opportunity to come to South Burlington to meet with consumers face to face and to share information about their farms and their products.” Getting the word out is Trisha’s first priority. By supporting farmers, she says, the South Burlington community gains a better understanding of its own local food system, and the consumer has everything to gain—preservation of our beautiful rural landscape, better health, and incredibly delicious clean, fresh foods to serve our families.
Who are the farmers you are likely to meet at the South Burlington Farmers Market?
Hank Bissell has operated Lewis Creek Farm in Starksboro for thirty years. He began as a wholesaler, selling his products to store keepers and merchants who, in turn, sold them to the public. He soon became a vendor at the Burlington Farmers Market and served as its president for fifteen years. Today, ten percent of his operation is devoted to farmers’ market sales, while the rest he continues to sell to retail markets and restaurants in the Burlington and Middlebury areas. Andrew Hamilton, a sustainable agriculture major at UVM, is an intern at Lewis Creek Farm this year, and manages sales at the South Burlington Farmers Market.
Bissell is especially proud of his pure white heads of autumn cauliflower, a vegetable with many “idiosyncrasies,” he says, that requires careful tending. His freshly dug potatoes and carrots are sweet and firm this time of year.
Ben Notterman sells natural Holstein beef, raised on his family’s Snug Valley Farm in East Hardwick. “We’ve been doing grass-fed beef since before it was fashionable,” says Ben, who is also known as “The Frozen Butcher” because he sells cuts from his mobile, solar-powered freezer. The Notterman farm was once a dairy farm where a single steer was raised each year for the family’s consumption. When public demand for purer forms of meat rose, they began serious beef production. They now raise 30 Holsteins and up to 20 pigs per season, and sell their products at farmers markets throughout the region.
“Consumers are opening their eyes to what they eat and where it comes from,” says Ben. “Nothing is more important than making a connection between the public and the farmers who grow their food.”
Tom McGregor, better known as Mr. Harvest, sells a stunning array of produce—tomatoes, squash, greens, onions, and much more—which he grows on his certified organic farm on Grand Isle. McGregor participates in many area farmers markets and operates his own farm stand on the island at 55 Adams School Road.
Not all the products sold at the South Burlington market are raw foodstuffs. Many prepared and preserved foods are sold also, along with some artisanal and handcrafted goods.
Amy Yandow sells syrup, molded maple candies, maple cream and sugar, and wedding favors that she and husband Mark Yandow produce at Sugartree Maple Farm in Williston. They also ship their products everywhere via their website, www.sugartreemaplefarm.com.
Erika DeVincenzi and Barnney Sandoval are newcomers to the farmers’ market circuit. Erika is the owner of the Vermont Krunch Toffee Company. She produces luscious toffees, attractively packaged in ribbon-bound boxes. Barnney established the Vermont BBQ Sauce Company and sells his signature sauces by the jar.
Ana Ditursi sells hot, hand-made empanadas at the market, along with her own bottled chimichurri sauce, a blend of herbs, peppers, spices and vinegar—a traditional Argentinean accompaniment for steaks and grilled meats.
Remaining days for the South Burlington Farmers Market at Healthy Living, 222 Dorset Street, are September 11 & 25, and October 9 & 23.
Terry Ward Libby has been a free lance writer and cookbook author for nearly twenty years, covering restaurant industry trends, artisanal food production, and the farm-to-table movement.