SOUTH PORTLAND — Now that the city has finally realized its farmers market dream after five years of stop-and-go planning, the question that remains is: Will it work?
Many towns in greater Portland have farmers markets in summer, winter or both, including the city of Portland. The new South Portland farmers Market is held Thursday evenings at Thomas Knight Park, and organizers and shoppers said they’ll buy their produce, eggs, meat and baked goods in Knightville, thanks in no small part to what one shopper called “bridge syndrome.”
Simply put, most of people interviewed at the opening-day market said that given the choice, they’d rather not have to cross the Casco Bay Bridge to get farm-fresh groceries.
“I’m excited to have something this close to home,” said Rachel Guthrie, who lives in the Willard neighborhood and attended the first farmers market on July 14. “People shop where it’s most convenient.”
The cobblestones at Thomas Knight Park were packed for the market’s grand opening; 12 vendors lined the walkway, hawking everything from produce and rabbit meat to baked goods and crab cakes. There was even a man offering to sharpen patrons’ knives while they shopped.
Between giving away free samples of locally sourced crab cakes and salmon patties, Gretchen Bates of Maine Saltwater Creations gave thanks for the organizers’ hard work.
“They advertised really well for this market,” she said. Bates and her business partner Lauren Fillinger sell their seafood at farmers markets in Falmouth, Cumberland, Freeport and now South Portland.
“And we’re never this busy,” she said.
But the large crowd at the first market may not be a great predictor of the market’s future.
“You can’t judge it based on one day,” said Caitlin Jordan of Alewives Brook Farm in Cape Elizabeth. Jordan, along with Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis and fellow Cape Elizabeth farmer Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm, organized the market.
“It’s about whether this community supports this all season,” she said.
We need people here week after week for this to be a success.”
It seemed that for South Portland Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis, who has been an advocate for establishing the farmers market, the success of the new venture will come down to the city’s residents.
“We have the community spirit to make this a success,” De Angelis said after cutting the ribbon to open the market. “Portland’s is on the map as one of the best in the country, and we’re ready to compete. We have a whole community of people who may not want to cross the bridge.”
But organizers aren’t relying on “bridge syndrome” alone to keep the shoppers in South Portland. They hope a growing variety of goods and services offered and a plan for educational workshops will keep the customers coming back for more every week.
Penny Jordan said innovation would be the key.
“This is a base for us to work with,” she said. “The following weeks will tell us a lot. There are people who don’t want to cross the bridge, but we need to be different.”
To that end, she’s planning on organizing workshops each week, which she hopes can be led by different teachers on subjects like fermenting, pickling and preserving food or other sustainably themed skills.
She asked that anyone interested in leading a workshop contact her at email@example.com.
Shoppers meander past vendors at the South Portland Farmers Market on Thursday, July 14. The market takes place at Thomas Knight Park from 3-7 p.m. every Thursday through October.
Melissa Coriaty, chef and owner of Verbena on Ocean Street, talks with a customer at the first-ever South Portland Farmers Market on July 14 in Thomas Knight Park.
David Oberton of Wicked Sharp, a knife sharpening service, puts blade to stone at the South Portland Farmers Market.
South Portland Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis, dressed as a watermelon, cuts the ribbon to open the farmers market at Thomas Knight Park on July 14.
The South Portland Farmers Market will be open through every Thursday from 3-7 p.m. through October in Knightville.