NORTH STONINGTON — Local farmers met with members of North Stonington’s Economic Development Commission Thursday to discuss options for bringing a farmers market to town, perhaps as soon as this summer.
“We just wanted to talk with some local farmers and get their thoughts on the whole process and how viable this might be,” Chairman Brett Mastroianni said.
But Mastroianni also said he’s received feedback from residents questioning whether the town should be involved in a market.
The commission invited Terra Firma Farm director BrianneCasadei and Firefly Farms owner Beth Tillman to the meeting to offer their suggestions.
Tillman reviewed various types of existing markets, both independent and municipally operated. The mix includes markets in Bozrah, Ledyard, Waterford, Stonington and Niantic.
“There has to be a huge balance in a market,” she said, pointing to Coventry as one that’s hit “just the right balance” between farmers who sell raw goods and vendors who sell prepared food.
“If there are too many prepared food vendors, it just does not work for the farmers,” she said.
Entertainment choices also can have an effect, with acoustic acts preferred over louder electric bands, she said.
“That’s why we’re having this discussion, to see what would work and make it different from what other towns have,” Mastroianni said. “What would make farmers want to bring their goods here?”
Casadei said that in her experience, the best markets are those run by a town, with a paid market master and funded by vendors’ fees.
“These things, over time, can get fully funded,” she said. “And provide some money for the town.”
Casadei said the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a grant that allows for research to gauge whether there’s interest in a market, but also funds a market master for the first year, as well as marketing and promotion.
Casadei offered to look into the grant.
“We’re an agricultural town, we have a great location, tons of amazing farms in town,” she said.
Commission member DuganTillman-Brown, Tillman’s son, said he’d prefer a market that can be open year-round, and indoors.
“So it becomes a habit, and it’s a ritual, and at the same place so people get used to it,” he said.
The commission also batted around possible sites for a market, with talk turning to the Hewitt Farm property as one location that would seem a natural fit. Other sites were discussed as well.
Mastroianni emphasized that the commission was only receiving feedback at this point and nothing has been decided.
The group weighed the factors that can make or break a market, including parking, scheduling, location, entertainment and types of vendors.
Tillman said the area is now “pretty saturated” with markets, and that North Stonington would have to “start with a bang” and at least 25 to 30 vendors if it chooses to proceed.
“Otherwise, nobody’s going to pay attention,” she said.
First Selectman Michael Urgo offered encouragement to the group.
“This is the roots of what North Stonington is about, and it would be phenomenal to get it going,” Urgo said. “It’d be great to get it going this summer, but it would take a lot of work, if it’s going to happen.”