Small Upper Valley farmers markets have been coming and going

Katrina Hippe, of Sharon, sets up her booth at the Orford Open Air Market in Orford, Vt., on Saturday, July 22, 2023. Hippe sells house plants, paintings and jewelry. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Katrina Hippe, of Sharon, sets up her booth at the Orford Open Air Market in Orford, Vt., on Saturday, July 22, 2023. Hippe sells house plants, paintings and jewelry. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Ben Canterbury, 10, left, of Orford, and his cousin Wyat Reed, 8, right, carry Reed's brother Reuben, 2, a ride in a basket at the Orford (N.H.) Open Air Market on Saturday, July 22, 2023. Canterbury was selling antique bottles found with the help of his grandfather Tim Chase in an old farm dump, and Chase was selling his novel Castle Valley. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Ben Canterbury, 10, left, of Orford, and his cousin Wyat Reed, 8, right, carry Reed's brother Reuben, 2, a ride in a basket at the Orford (N.H.) Open Air Market on Saturday, July 22, 2023. Canterbury was selling antique bottles found with the help of his grandfather Tim Chase in an old farm dump, and Chase was selling his novel Castle Valley. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Stephanie Salls, of Newbury, photographs her Fauna Soapery stand at the Orford Open Air Market in Orford, N.H., on Saturday, July 22, 2023. Salls and her husband had been traveling about an hour to the bimonthly Enfield farmers market, but started coming to Orford in the off weeks because it is closer to home. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Stephanie Salls, of Newbury, photographs her Fauna Soapery stand at the Orford Open Air Market in Orford, N.H., on Saturday, July 22, 2023. Salls and her husband had been traveling about an hour to the bimonthly Enfield farmers market, but started coming to Orford in the off weeks because it is closer to home. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Leah Buccheri, of Orford, left, and Lisa Binder, of Lyme, right, try to keep their dogs Cali and Lucky G., respectively, from tangling their leashes while preparing for a parade of dogs around the Orford (N.H.) Open Air Market on Saturday, July 22, 2023. Binder sells jewelry and cards at a stand with her daughter Georgia Kahn who sells her own pottery. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Leah Buccheri, of Orford, left, and Lisa Binder, of Lyme, right, try to keep their dogs Cali and Lucky G., respectively, from tangling their leashes while preparing for a parade of dogs around the Orford (N.H.) Open Air Market on Saturday, July 22, 2023. Binder sells jewelry and cards at a stand with her daughter Georgia Kahn who sells her own pottery. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

By KAELI BENNETT

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 07-25-2023 2:04 PM

HARTLAND — Small farmers markets in the Upper Valley are being faced with tough decisions — do they adapt to changing times or fold?

The Hartland Farmers Market and the Royalton Farmers Market have taken opposite approaches. The Hartland Farmers Market moved last year from the town’s green at the Hartland Public Library to Artisan’s Park in Windsor, while the Royalton market closed earlier this year.

“I’m saddened that we chose to move,” said Brian Stroffolino, Hartland’s market manager and town clerk. “I gave my blood, sweat and tears to the market when it was on the green. … But I stick behind the decision we made to move.”

Stroffolino took over leadership of the Hartland Farmers Market in 2014, when it was going to fold, and revived it to the best of his abilities. He said the market reached a sales peak soon after but started trailing off again.

The market in Hartland was no longer a viable sales avenue for vendors, so Stroffolino and the Hartland Farmers Market board decided to move to the new location after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

“It’s definitely better,” Stroffolino said. “Sales figures in some instances are almost double what they used to be.”

Despite Stroffolino’s positive outlook, he said the market is still being impacted by uncontrollable forces. This year’s obstacle — the weather.

In contrast to last year’s 20 vendors at Artisan’s Park, the Hartland Farmers Market has just 14 regular vendors this year. More information about Hartland’s farmers market can be found on its website.

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Hartland’s is not the only farmers market being affected by this summer’s storms. The Royalton Farmers Market was already struggling to stay afloat this year, but eventually the rain took it down.

Rachel Bigelow, a farmer who served as Royalton’s market manager, said that over the last few years her market was able to keep a steady 10 to 15 vendors. That wasn’t the case this summer, and when Bigelow found herself the only vendor showing up at her market, she decided to pull the plug on June 21.

This summer’s bad weather wasn’t the only factor that drove the Royalton Farmers Market out of business. Vendor changes following the pandemic also played a major role.

Many farms turned to alternate sales options during the pandemic, according to Nancy LaRowe, director of Farm & Food and Economy at Vital Communities. Farmers had planted expecting to sell produce at farmers markets in the summer of 2020, but that was no longer a safe option.

One of the most popular routes for farms during the height of the pandemic was online sales and contactless customer pick-ups, according to LaRowe. In Hartland, Stroffolino even used the internet to keep his market’s community in contact — virtually — in 2020 and 2021.

“Farmers markets are supposed to be a viable sales channel” for farmers, said LaRowe, but they have not proven as consistent as hoped.

Even before COVID-19, farmers markets could be very hit or miss for farmers. LaRowe said that in 2017, her employer Vital Communities received a federal grant to work with Upper Valley farmers markets in an effort to increase farms’ revenue. This goal, she said, proved to be unachievable.

“It takes a tremendous amount of work to bring things to a market,” said Royalton’s market ma0nager, Rachel Bigelow.

Now that farmers have established alternate sales avenues, all that work for farmers markets may not be worth it. Bigelow said that Royalton’s produce-based market this year was set to be all new vendors, and Stroffolino’s market has always struggled with vendor retention.

Smaller farmers markets may take a backseat to the Norwich Farmers Market for farmers looking to sell their produce. The Norwich Farmers Market is made up of just over 50% farm vendors and is one of the biggest markets in the Upper Valley. Customers looking to buy produce know Norwich will have what they need, so sales may be better there for farmers than at smaller local markets such as Hartland and Royalton.

“It’s hard to get vendors and customers going to more than one market per week,” said LaRowe.

But it’s not all bad news for small markets. Even with Royalton’s closure, new markets are opening up. One opened this year in Bradford, Vt., and last year Cara Dyke started the Orford Open Air Market.

“There’s so much talent in these little towns,” Dyke said. “I thought it would bring our community together and support our local neighbors and give them an outlet.”

Her market is mainly made up of artisans, with little to no farm vendor participation. But Dyke said she supports the local Robie Farm by sending customers looking for produce up the road to their farm stand in Piermont.

At the Orford market, Dyke also keeps up public participation by hosting events in coordination with the local library, and the town’s touch-a-truck event took place at the farmers market last year. More information about events and the Orford Open Air Market is available on its Facebook page.

All is not lost for the Royalton Farmers Market, either. The South Royalton-based nonprofit Building A Local Economy is exploring the idea of reopening the market in the future.

“We need the social outlet that farmers markets provide post-COVID,” said LaRowe. “If we’re losing them, we’re missing out.”

Kaeli Bennett can be reached at kaelibennett34@gmail.com.