We were excited to hear that Main Street Magazine planned to honor farmers markets in their July issue. Farmers markets are such a vital part of the agricultural community, we were glad to see them get some high level coverage. In preparation for the article, Lindsey Clark contacted us with some background questions. The final article can be viewed HERE, but we thought you may enjoy reading our full answers to learn more about your favorite market!
When and how was your farmers market founded? Where is it currently located?
The Copake Hillsdale Farmers Market was the result of a merger of the 2 towns’ markets in 2014 (for the full story, see www.copakehillsdalefarmersmarket.com/history/
). We are located in a covered barn known as the Harvest Barn in the spacious Roeliff Jansen Park on Route 22 in Hillsdale. We operate every Saturday from 9-1, through late November.
How has your market grown or changed over time?
In so many ways! The community has always embraced us and supported our vendors, but that level of support and participation has grown tremendously. We now enjoy well over 20,000 guests a year, with a large number of weekly regulars. Our vendor base has also grown; we now spill out of the covered barn, and schedule over 30 vendors each week. This has allowed for wider product selection for customers, but also for greater exposure to local small businesses.
On the back end, the organization behind the market has grown. The expertise and know-how of our Steering Committee is expanded, we’re more ambitious and creative, and our teamwork has beautifully gelled. Most of the committee members have been involved in the market since before the merger, so there is a lot of experience and institutional knowledge at play. Also, all of them have been, or are currently, vendors in the market which helps us stay in touch with the vendor needs and concerns.
What does your farmers market have to offer? What sorts of vendors appear at your market?
We’ve worked hard to provide all of the essentials you’d want on a weekly shopping trip, plus a lot of specialty items to add zip. Looking over the list of what our vendors collectively provide (www.copakehillsdalefarmersmarket.com/your-grocery-list-check-check-check/
), you’ll see those basics well represented alongside pickled eggs, elk, sangria, pumpkin seeds, ostrich eggs, and dumplings.
The vendors are ultra-local, by the way. The farm closest to the market venue is Yonderview Farm, about a mile away, while the rest are generally within 15 miles.
And here’s another item that makes CHFM stand out: when you shop with our vendors, chances are high that you will be dealing with the farmer, owner, or producer themself. That means that you can be highly confident in asking questions such as “What are the ingredients in this?” or “Do you spray these strawberries?”. It also allows for the forging of personal relationships with the growers, watching their young families grow or experience milestones in their lives. Vendor retention is high, with about 95% returning after a season.
What kinds of specialties or notable attractions does your market possess?
The spectacular vendors are the #1 draw, of course, and the live music is a hit. But our location in the Roe Jan Park is a notable attraction, itself (https://hillsdaleny.com/roeliff-jansen-park/). This State park is rich with walking trails, dog runs, a lovely stream to wade in, a small playground, a wedding/event venue, and a backdrop that we never tire of. The Taconic Range to our east is part of the Appalachian Mountains, running along the eastern border of NY, from northwest CT western MA and northern VT.
Are there any particular events or activities held at your farmers market?
In the past, we’ve scheduled some fun events throughout the season, such as Strawberry Festival, chef demos, “Dog Days” skills and looks contest, corn shucking speed test, and a unique tasting date at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Many of these got put on ice because of COVID. Happily, an event that still remains in effect is the weekly Farm Market Kids program, a longtime partnership with the Roeliff Jansen Community Library that involves reading and activities at market.
Another activity that helps our market stand out is the presence of skilled artisan crafters. Pre-COVID, we scheduled monthly Artisan Days in which 18-20 artists, woodworkers, jewelry makers and potters joined the regular vendors for the day. Adapting to the pandemic guidelines, we have spaced out their appearances by inviting 3 or 4 every week. Got to admit, browsing gorgeous jewelry or fine ceramics is not a bad way to finish a grocery shopping trip!
How might you describe your market’s relationship with the greater community?
We make serious efforts to be part of the community, it’s important to us. Just as they support us, we try to support them. The local food pantry and Blessing Box have been recipients of funding from us; a scholarship for a young up and coming farmer is awarded on behalf of the market’s founders, Timi Bates and Caroline Stewart, at the Taconic Hills School. Almost every week, we host a guest from community groups who share our mission and values, such as Sensible Solar, Cornell Cooperative, or Harlem Valley Rail Trail in order to give them a venue to chat about their efforts. When it makes sense, we collaborate with town events like a pumpkin festival or art exhibit. Last, by hiring local musicians for the weekly live music, we strive to support and encourage local talent.
Overall, we feel that we are well integrated into the Roe Jan area community. Judging by the outpouring of sponsorships and donations received from our appeal this year. folks appreciate us. Our Assistant Manager and Sponsor Coordinator Heidi Simmons sent out a call for funding help for live music, tables and chairs, a SNAP matching program (more on that below) and operating expenses. The response has been nothing short of astonishing, with 270% of our goal being met.
The donations ranged from modest to OMG. A recent newsletter (https://mailchi.mp/f8a1c23f9605/week-4
highlighted 3 donations that we were especially grateful for: the Henry L. Kimelman Family Foundation targeting improvements to the Roe Jan Park, the Hillsdale General Store & HGS Home Chef underwriting our live music, and Farm Credit East with a grant to support our efforts in growing our SNAP customer base. Naturally, anyone else wanting to show support for CHFM may follow the donation links on our website, with thanks.
How has your farmers market had to adapt in the face of the pandemic? Are there any changes you implemented that you plan on keeping in place post-COVID?
Our market manager, Nicole Friedrich, had her hands full when the pandemic first hit in early 2020. She literally didn’t know if we would be permitted to open our season as planned in May, or if permitted, what it would look like. As events unfolded, and guidance came forth from the CDC and the Farmers Market Federation, she waded through the guidelines. When Opening Day came, our market indeed looked quite different — the spacing for social distancing, the mask requirements, no dogs allowed, small groups of shoppers encouraged, no lingering, no eating of food on-site, no live music. Ensuring safety while reassuring customers was our priority.
Gladly, many of these strict guidelines have been lifted although we remain cautious and vigilant. Distancing and hand washing are still requested, and unvaccinated guests are asked to mask up. Some restrictions on product sampling remain in place. Until further notice, we plan on keeping the layout that entails vendors setting up inside and outside of the barn (see www.copakehillsdalefarmersmarket.com/vendor-map-for-june-12th/
for a typical week’s map).
Is there anything you’d like to share about your market that has yet to be covered?
Yes, and it’s something big! In a word, SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program a.k.a. food stamps). Sadly, there is a large number of families who qualify for SNAP benefits in the Roe Jan region that we serve — hundreds, in fact. Early on, our vendors got on board with accepting SNAP as a form of payment for eligible items, but few customers took advantage of being able to enjoy the healthy, local foods. So we enrolled in a wonderful program called Double Up Food Bucks, in which SNAP users were given up to $20 credit per week for buying produce, fruit, herbs, and food bearing plants. This upped the interest from SNAP users to some extent, but we still weren’t achieving the numbers we hoped for.
We had been doing “outreach” all along, but decided in 2021 to up the ante. We created a matching program of our own, in which the SNAP users’ purchasing power was doubled. Subsidized by the market (and the generous donors), this allowed us to make an offer that couldn’t be refused. Opening Day saw a volume of SNAP usage that previously would have represented over 1 month. We could not be more thrilled, and we encourage all to help spread the word that Copake Hillsdale Farmers Market is SNAP-friendly.