SOUTH PORTLAND — After languishing in logistic limbo for more than five years, a South Portland farmers’ market is closer to reality than ever.
City councilors recently approved changes to zoning and licensing rules to establish a market at Thomas Knight Park.
They also struck down rules established in 2004 – when Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis, then a city councilor, first got her idea for a farmers’ market on the books – that set a 10-vendor maximum and limited operating hours to between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
Organizers and supporters are hopeful the market, to be held Thursdays from 3-7 p.m., will draw people not only from South Portland, but the greater Portland area.
They hope it will be part of the revitalization of Knightville.
The triangle between Waterman Drive, Cottage Road and Broadway is home to the city’s post office and City Hall, not to mention shops, markets, restaurants and other businesses.
De Angelis said this makes it the most logical place for a vibrant hub in South Portland.
“We’ve always wanted Knightville-Mill Creek to be our downtown,” she said. “I see the farmers market as playing a key role in that.”
De Angelis said the previous limitations, in addition to a $100 stall fee for vendors that councilors struck earlier, had doomed the farmers’ market.
A small-scale farmer herself, De Angelis said farmers were already selling their goods at a market held Saturday mornings at Deering Oaks in Portland.
“No one signed up, and it fizzled out,” said Caitlin Jordan of Alewives Brook Farm in Cape Elizabeth, who also runs the Scarborough Farmers’ Market. “But right now, buying local, shopping at farmers markets is really popular again. We thought we might try again.”
And try they did.
Jordan, De Angelis and Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth (who Caitlin Jordan said is most likely a distant relative) began meeting last winter with members of the Knightville-Mill Creek Neighborhood Association and the Waterfront Market Association.
De Angelis said it was crucial to have the involvement of “all the players” in Knightville.
“They’re the ones who live and work there,” she said. “It’s a mixed-use neighborhood. So if the businesses aren’t happy and the residents aren’t happy about how this is going to come together, it won’t work.”
Leah Lippman, chairwoman of the neighborhood association, said she is excited to draw more people deeper into Knightville.
The rerouting of the Casco Bay Bridge in 1997 diverted traffic to Broadway,away from the Knightville-Mill Creek area. Since then, Lippman said the name of the game in the neighborhood has been revitalization.
“This is one of the things, farmers’ markets, that are going to be a destination for a lot of people,” she said. “A lot more people are going to venture down to the end of Knightville, and they’ll see everything going on down there.”
Bob O’Brian and Michael Vaillancourt of the Waterfront Market Organization met with De Angelis and company. They were the ones who pushed to locate the farmers’ market in Thomas Knight Park, rather than near the Hannaford supermarket on Ocean Street, the first location floated by market supporters.
“It’s a great way to get people down to the end of the point, down past all the merchants at the north end of Cottage Road and Ocean Street,” O’Brien said. “If it were somewhere else, like Mill Creek, it wouldn’t really benefit the merchants.”
O’Brien hopes the farmers’ market will attract boaters, who could pull ashore near the park to buy provisions at the market or any of the businesses in the waterfront area.
“That park is completely below the radar of most people,” O’Brien said. “But it’s a really cool spot.”
Now that the city’s regulations are more amenable to the farmers’ market, De Angelis and the two Jordans hope to hold the first farmers market on July 14.
But first they’ll have to build the necessary organizational structure, and get farmers on board.
De Angelis said she’ll be visiting farmers’ markets in the greater Portland area to solicit farmers to sell their goods in South Portland.
Caitlin Jordan said that once farmers are on board, they’ll have to form a South Portland Farmers Market Association to run the day-to-day operations of the market.
The mayor also said she hopes to form an advisory committee with representatives from the farmers, city, neighborhood association and Waterfront Market Association.
The committee, she said, will meet once before and once after the growing season to address the needs of the farmers’ market to help ensure its success.
The organizers are also making plans to ensure their farmers’ market has something unique to offer.
“We want to have an educational component,” Caitlin Jordan said. “Every week there would be something everyone could learn, like how to freeze tomatoes or how to jar or sauce vegetables.”
The mayor also hopes the market will be successful enough in the summer months that South Portland can eventually open an off-season market, somewhere indoors where local vendors can sell their products during the winter.
“If Portland can do it,” De Angelis said, “we ought to be able to do it.”
Thomas Knight Park, where Ocean Street meets Waterman Drive in the Knightville neighborhood of South Portland, will host the city’s new farmers’ market on Thursdays from 3-7 p.m. Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis and other members of the community hope the farmers’ market will help revitalize the area.