Jane Hurst woke up last Saturday morning with a challenge: Think way back to last summer and collect all of the items necessary to conduct business at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market, the first of the season.
“You have to remember all the parts of your stand,” she said. In Ms. Hurst’s case, this includes the grey sheet she drapes over the trunk of her car for shade, the umbrella, the small table, the pesto, the sundried tomato spread and, of course, crackers for sampling. Ms. Hurst, an enthusiastic employee of Pam’s Provisions, met the challenge. “We remembered everything,” she said. “Yes, we did. Oh, my goodness.”
This year marks the 38th season of the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market, a true Island institution. It is the longest-running market on the Island. Over the years, the market has grown from a handful of vendors to the 40 vendors present most Saturdays.
In the four years she’s been selling Pam’s products on Saturdays, Ms. Hurst said, the farmers’ market’s image has really improved. “We didn’t used to be hip,” she said. “All of a sudden, with the local foods movement, we’re hip! It’s really fun.” Ms. Hurst welcomes a young boy to her stand. “I trust you’re an expert,” she addresses him, offering him a taste. “I need you to give me your opinion.”
Across the dirt path, another veteran vendor is excited to return for another farmers’ market season. Ethel Sherman, of Ethel’s Kitchen, is back selling her spiced blueberry and strawberry jams after taking last summer off to recover from a fall.
“All year I felt really left out of it,” she said. “I had to come back. It’s so much fun. It’s like home-y.” Mrs. Sherman said she missed the familiar faces and the hustle and bustle of the market commerce. “You just put yourself in my place and see how you’d feel,” she said. “It’s really a pleasure to see all of those people who are back again.”
Juli Vanderhoop of Orange Peel Bakery in Aquinnah — in its fifth farmers’ market summer — echoed Mrs. Sherman’s feelings. “I’m really happy to see the season begin,” she said. “It’s also a little nerve-wracking because we’re expecting a ton of work ahead.”
Only 20 per cent of Orange Peel sales are made at Saturday and Wednesday farmers’ markets in West Tisbury. The bulk of the bakery’s profits are earned through a partnership with Cronig’s Market. But the markets are a good source of publicity, Ms. Vanderhoop said. “It’s nice that the season gets extended into June and September,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity to get out here and start talking about our oven.”
The Orange Peel Bakery, known for its massive open-air oven imported from France, sells artisan breads made from scratch. It is the only business in Aquinnah open 12 months of the year, Ms. Vanderhoop said. “We’re the little bakery that could.”
The vendors’ enthusiasm was infectious. Saturday’s market saw no shortage of happy customers, who paraded the central path toting woven baskets full of greens, breads and flowers. “This is the best market,” exclaimed Tom Lorch, a vacationer from Hartford, who was carrying a weighty bag full of chocolate, lettuce, apple pie, radishes and Vietnamese egg rolls. “There’s nothing as extensive or as fresh anywhere. We’ve been to other markets, but they don’t compare.” Mr. Lorch also enjoys the live music. “It’s really toe-tapping stuff,” he said.
Lily Walter, a fresh face among the merchants at the farmers’ market, said she is excited to introduce Slipaway Farm in Katama. This year, Ms. Walter received a $500 check and an acre through a Farm Institute grant to support experimental farming on their property — in this case, reduced till farming. Ms. Walter covers her garden plots with seaweed, grass and clippings to prevent erosion or disturbance of the soil. Ms. Walter is the only grant recipient who has decided to sell her vegetables. Saturday’s stand brimmed with wooden boxes packed tightly with arugula, herbs and beets. In addition to the farmer’s market, Ms. Walter and her crew will deliver 10 produce shares to Chappaquiddick residents weekly on her bicycle.
Another new addition to the market this year is the Island Bee Company, a family of beekeepers in business since 1998. Tricia Sirakovsky, who manned the table with the help of her two children, sold raw honey, beeswax candles and a new product — pollen, an “amazing food with a lot of benefits,” Ms. Sirakovsky said. Pollen is touted by many as a superfood with high protein content. She and her husband, Tim Colon, are also planning to introduce propolis this year, a substance bees use to seal up their hives, which humans can use as a tincture, due to its supposed immune system-strengthening properties.
A young male customer bought the first jar of pollen the Colon family has ever sold. “I’m so full of energy, and that’s simply after placing it on my tongue,” he reported. “I feel rejuvenated.”
At 9:45 a.m., business was in full force. “It’s great to see people out here,” said Jefferson Munroe, owner of the Good Farm. “I was expecting it to be really slow,” because it was the first market of the season.
Mr. Munroe reports that his year-old poultry business is growing. This year he tends 1,600 chickens, more than last year, in an effort to avoid selling out like last year. He also raises turkeys for Thanksgiving. He said he is “on the cusp” of offering two new products at the market this season: chicken sausage and raw dog food made from chicken carcasses and innards. “If you’re not going to make stock, you might as well make dog food,” he said.
The West Tisbury Farmers’ Market is held at the Grange Hall in the center of West Tisbury on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Wednesday markets will begin on June 20 amd run through August 29. Saturday markets run through Columbus day weekend.