Farmers' Market prospers at Tannery Park

By Susan Mustapich | Dec 04, 2019
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Andrea Smith of Brae Maple Farm has a long-term perspective, when she calls Tannery Park the best location the Camden Farmer's Market has had in its 30 years.

CAMDEN — Tannery Park is the best location the Camden Farmers' Market has had over the decades, say vendors who sell their products there.

The town-owned land on Washington Street has been home to the market for three seasons. In 2018, the market brought 28 vendors, who raise organic and non-organic vegetables, fruits, flowers, meat, fish and poultry, and make breads and baked goods, cheese, honey and maple syrup, and handmade goods. Prior market locations were in the parking lot of the Knox Mill and before that a parking area, then owned by Tibbetts Industries. Maine has 120 farmer’s markets, most of which are self-governed, democratically-run, tax-exempt associations, according to Mike Bahner, president of the Camden Farmers' Market.

At the end of the season, around Thanksgiving, the vendors were asked about the location, and their perspectives.

Andrea Smith of Brae Maple Farm has decades of perspective on the Camden Farmers' Market. She has been selling her farm's produce there since the early 1990s and is the longest continuing member.

"I think it's the best location," she said. "It's a nice, green spot. People sit at the picnic tables and visit, bring their dogs. It's the perfect spot."

Farmers markets are very important to Brae Maple Farm, she said. "This is the only way I market my produce. I appreciate having the local markets." Smith also enjoys the camaraderie and friendships that develop at the market. The contact with people, and the appreciation of the customers, is worth the work it takes to sell at the market and a good counterbalance to the isolation of farming.

Kevin and Diane Weiser, of Hubbard Brook Farm & Baskets, go back at least 22 years with the market and also began selling when it was located at Tibbetts. As market master, Kevin has the job of organizing the vendors, with the goal of offering a full array of products. "Then everybody makes money," he said. "If you're not, you're not going to last." Kevin said the market surveyed the vendors the first year at Tannery Park, and "everyone's sales went up." The Weisers run a conventional farm and explained that the market does not require vendors to be organic. Kevin said vendors can apply to sell at the market and the key is selling something the market does not currently offer.

The couple are the only vendor at the market who sell fruit, including peaches, apples and plums, which goes back to Kevin's degree in fruit and vegetable management and their first fruit orchard in New Hampshire. When they bought an old dairy farm in Maine, they planted orchards and vegetables. Diane first came into the market selling her baskets. Now they sell fruit, vegetables, jams, and baskets.

Diane prefers an area where there is grass, instead of pavement, and likes the Tannery Park location. She sees a difference in the people who come to the market, and the sales. She has noticed that "just moving a half mile down the road, there are so many different faces," adding that they know the customers not so much by name, as by their faces. At the Knox Mill, she sold a lot of baskets and jam, she said. At Tannery Park, “We're kicking it with the fruit," she said. Since they began using Square to process credit sales, her basket business is doing really well, she said. Whether it is the peaches, corn, tomatoes or apples, she wants everything they sell to be fresh picked, because it makes a difference in the taste.

Mike Bahner, president of the market, has seen the shift in customers and the upswing in sales. At Tannery Park "people who shop at the market are people who cook," he said. "You come out here and even when it's at it's busiest, it's still manageable," he said. The green space is good for families, who are the core customers of the market, he said. People come, get their coffee and a donut or something to eat, and will sit at the picnic tables for a couple of hours. That didn't happen at Knox Mill, he said.

Bahner pointed out that there is a discrepancy between what the vendors and town officials see as the best location for the market. When officials thought a project to install a new layer of soil and landscaping over the park might require a temporary relocation of the market, they offered the market a choice of prime locations downtown, including the Public Landing and Harbor Park. But those locations are not conducive to shopping for food, in the opinion of Bahner and Marcia Ferry, owner of Piecemeal Farm, since 2002. The elements needed to create a successful market are on Ferry's mind, as she has been working with a committee to start a new farmer's market in Bangor.

The market needs a space big enough for vendors to set up, and for customers to park, Ferry said. Parking needs to accommodate customers at the busiest times. "You need parking for that many people, otherwise they aren't going to come to the market," she said.

There are hopes for a continued future at Tannery Park. Ferry would like to know that Tannery Park is the Camden Farmers' Market's home. Bahner calls the location perfect, and has visions of making the market there even better. Diane Weiser thinks that a play area at the site would be cool.

Camden Farmers Market was invited to move to Tannery Park in 2017, by the Select Board, following a multi-year community planning process. Since that time, new board members have been elected and hired a new manager. Under the leadership of Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell, the town has obtained funds for a final environmental cleanup of residual levels of chemicals in the soil and most recently, debris and chemical contamination along the bank of the Megunticook River, which borders the park. Town officials have discussed requesting proposals for development of all or a portion of the property.

 

Diane Weiser, right, of Hubbard Farms & Baskets agrees that sales increased after the Camden Farmers' Market moved to Tannery Park. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
Mike Bahner, president of the Camden Farmers' Market sees that at Tannery Park the people who shop are people who cook. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
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