Despite showers, optimism reigns at Maine Mall Farmers Market in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Despite drizzly weather, few vendors and low turnout, organizers and farmers at the Maine Mall Farmers Market are calling their opening day a success and are optimistic about the future.

Maine Mall officials said about 100 people showed up between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. for the inaugural market, held in a parking lot at the intersection of Gorham Road and Philbrook Avenue. 

There were only six vendors, hawking goods including flowers, produce, soap, handmade glass products, meat, dairy and even lobster, but they were bullish.

“You can’t expect to much on the opening day of any market,” Matthew Hinck, of Tourmaline Hill Farm in Greenwood, said.

Hinck was selling a variety of goat cheeses and other dairy products. He said the big benefit of the mall location will be traffic. If one out of every 10 vehicles stops by just to check out the market, he said, it will all be worth it.

“Once the tourists get here, I’m not going to be able to fit enough cash in my box,” Hinck said. 

Cris and Rick Mitchell, of Gorham, were just the kind of passersby that Hinck hoped will lead to overflowing coffers. They said they didn’t even know there were farmers at the mall, but signs advertising the market and the vendors’ tents caught their eye.

“We were just driving by and thought we’d shoot in and see what it’s all about,” Rick Mitchell said. He said they occasionally shop at farmers markets, and are excited about having another one just six miles from their home.

“This is a great idea,” Cris Mitchell added.

The inaugural market was scheduled to include a cooking class, where shoppers could cook and eat. Because of the rain, the event – co-sponsored by Strive, an organization that assists young people with disabilities – was pushed back to July 3 and will now feature a “Community Cookout.”

The Maine Mall Farmers Market is the second summer market in South Portland, after the South Portland Farmers Market opened in Knightville last year. That first market opened for its second season in May, at a new location on Hinckley Drive at Mill Creek Park.

Last year, the South Portland Farmers Market saw lower-than-expected turnout, thanks in no small part to a series of rainy Thursdays. 

Stefanie Millette, marketing coordinator for the Maine Mall, said the 100 or so customers Tuesday were a good sign, even if the number seemed low.

“If that many come out today,” he said, “it will be nuts when the weather’s nice.”

Millette also said the expected addition of four vendors next week will attract more customers. The mall had originally planned for 12 vendors from the start, but obtaining the proper permits and permissions from the city has been a longer process than expected, she said.

“In the next few weeks, as all the I’s are dotted and T’s crossed, more will come,” Millette said. 

Whether more customers come or not, one farmer was excited about the unconventional market location. 

Althea Redfield of Wakeside Family Farms in Newport said the developed, asphalt-jungle location means farmers can bring natural, local foods to people who may not usually be exposed to them.

“I’m excited to bring veggies to this market,” Redfield said. “The turnout doesn’t really matter. If I can get people who are going to Panera to try out local basil, I’ll stand in a parking lot.”

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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Althea Redfield, right, of Wakeside Family Farms in Newport, chats with a customer Tuesday at the inaugural Maine Mall Farmers Market in South Portland.

Six vendors attended the inaugural Maine Mall Farmers Market on Tuesday, selling goods such as produce, flowers, soap, dairy and meat, lobster, and hand-made glass products.

Shannon Grauer, owner of Casco Bay Soap Co. of Freeport, at her table at the Maine Mall Farmers Market on Tuesday afternoon. The market will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Tuesday this summer.

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