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Monday, April 30, 2012

Cross Mills Farmers Market opens this week

New Thinking for New Farmers Markets

Kevin Thibodeau, owner of Lucky Foot Ranch, joined a
recent strategy session with other vendors
for a new Charlestown farmers market.
(Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)
By TIM FAULKNER/ News staff

CHARLESTOWN — It was only a few years ago that farmers markets were nearly extinct, marginalized by the car culture, shopping centers and fast food.

That trend has reversed in a big way in Rhode Island, with nearly 50 regular farmers markets today, several running through the winter.

Starting a farmers market these days involves both an old-school and New Age mindset — selling local vegetables, meat and seafood while making communities more personable, walkable and prosperous. This dual thinking helped Katie McAllister design a revamped farmers market, which opens May 5. 

"This is about the community of Charlestown and a model for what can be done in rural towns," said McAllister, manager of the forthcoming Cross Mills Farmers Market.

To prepare for the project, McAllister, who lives in North Kingstown, has worked at local farmers markets, done research and attended a farmers market conference in New York. All of which she hopes will help her create the Main Street, or "solid center," Charlestown never had.

"It's about the community. It's about bringing new ideas in. It's not just about food," she said during a recent brainstorming session with farmers, chefs, caterers, coffee makers and other market experts from in and around Charlestown.

Having the support of a local business owner also helps. John Tylawsky owns the 1-acre lot on Old Post Road where the market will be held. An engineer, Tylawsky presented a 3-D video design of the market space. 

Tylawsky intends to create an ongoing farmers market atmosphere to help incubate new businesses. The long-term vision involves the market, plus a shared building with a commercial kitchen for smaller businesses, such as caterers and artisan bakers. If successful, the businesses can move across the street into permanent storefronts Tylawsky also owns.

"The farmers market is like an experiment to see what works," he said.

On-site cooking classes, fund drives and food-scrap collection for a community garden will help give residents and shoppers an appreciation for local food and the environment.

"The farmers market would be a great way to come full circle about what's happening in town," said Susie Ferhmann, director of the community garden.

Fehrmann intends to expand the town's organic garden to provide more produce to local food kitchens and help the needy in Charlestown. "Everybody is vested in this garden and we don't really know whose around us and who doesn't have enough to eat," she said.

McAllister agreed that poverty in Charlestown, like may rural towns, is common. "If we continue to support each other, we're all going to grow," she said.

Ken Ayars, head of the state Division of Agriculture, noted that promoting farmers markets and local agriculture has been a deliberate strategy for more than a decade. 

Today, Rhode Island ranks third in the country for direct farm sales through collaboratives, farmers markets and roadside stands. Agriculture is also an important driver of the economy, while farmers markets in particular have a positive influence on a community. He noted that in 1998 Rhode Island had only nine farmers markets.

"They're not just a place to buy salad, (a farmers market) has a certain atmosphere. It adds a lot of flavor to Rhode Island," Ayars said.

The Cross Mill Farmers Market starts May 5 and will be open Fridays through Sundays beginning May 11.