Maine Farmers’ Market Convention

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Leigh Hallet, executive director of MFFM leads the proceedings.

Maine is blessed with a robust community of farmers and people that are passionate about local food. Not only do we have MOFGA (the Maine Organic Farmers’ and Gardeners’ Association), the nation’s oldest and largest organic organizations, but we also have the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets (MFFM). This was the second year I attended the Maine Farmers’ Market Convention which is led by MFFM and was held yesterday at the Kennebec Valley Community College Alfond Campus in Fairfield.

The MFFM was established in 1991 and has grown into a rich resource, serving farmers markets and working to grow access to local food across Maine. In 2014 Leigh Hallett took over as Executive Director; then in 2015 Emilie Knight was hired as the SNAP Program Coordinator, and Emily Buswell as an administrative assistant. These ladies have been instrumental in establishing a farmers’ market in Madison; the MFFM website is a wealth of information─stuff like how to operate a market, legal regulations, safety and sanitation, and even market promotion. The MFFM and all who serve the organization are dedicated to Maine’s local food network.

There were more than 130 people in attendance, representing markets from all across the state, with 3 different sessions over the course of the day and a total of 13 presentations. With so many issues important to my market and to me, it was hard to choose just 3 to sit in on!

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Trisha Smith of the Piscataquis County Cooperative Extension demonstrates how costumes like this carrot-suit can be used to engage kids.

One of the presentations I enjoyed most was titled: “Bringing the whole family: integrating youth and family programming at the farmers’ market”. I like to think that the Madison Farmers’ Market is a family-oriented market. We set up at the town park where families can play at the playground before or after their visit to the market. We also have a number of little ones that join our vendors at the Madison Farmers’ Market and the farmers and I have talked about ways we can incorporate more family-oriented activities over the course of the market season. There were 4 presenters for this topic: Deb Barnett of the Kennebec Cooperative Extension, Trisha Smith of the Piscataquis Cooperative Extension, Nancy Wood of the Knox County Community Health Coalition, and Elizabeth Siegel of the Union Farmers’ Market.

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Nancy Wood of the Knox County Community Health Coalition is very enthusiastic about the work she does with the Gardener Farmers’ Market.

These ladies shared with us their experiences engaging families in their communities through the local farmers’ market, including activity ideas, market-themes, and concepts like a “Kids’ Club” and a “Passport Program”. They talked about how they’d funded those projects and how they’d raised community support for their farmers’ markets. These women were all passionate about their markets, and about including children so that families can come and participate. It was really inspiring; I brought home lots of great ideas for the upcoming season at the Madison Farmers’ Market.

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Dr. Alfonso Morales of the University of Wisconsin in Madison gave a motivating keynote speech.

The keynote speaker at the convention was Dr. Alfonso Morales of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning. Dr. Morales also has a passion for farmers’ markets. He reminded us that historically, market places have been the root of social and economic life, and explained that markets have played a central role in forming society. Great markets of the past inspired trade, infrastructure, even modern law and policies. Dr. Morales pointed out that markets offer the opportunity for various government and non-profit groups to work together to achieve mutual goals.

During the annual meeting, MFFM unveiled their 1st Maine Farmers’ Market Annual Report, which they’d assembled using information collected during Snapshot Week back in August. If you’re not familiar with it, Snapshot Week was held during National Farmers’ Market Week, with more than 50 markets participating, including the Madison Farmers’ Market. The MFFM provided market managers with “tool-kits” that included shopper surveys and “I Love Farmers’ Markets” temporary tattoos. The information gathered during this week-long celebration enabled MFFM to gather data and put together this report which tells the story of the impact Maine’s farmers’ markets have on the state’s economy and their local communities.

I think Dr. Morales was inspired by the convention, he pointed out that not every state has an association like MFFM, or the strength. He went on to say,

This is a huge resource. You are that resource─the information you share with each other.

We really are blessed in Maine to have this strong and vibrant community of farmers and gardeners, and people who are dedicated to local food. That community isn’t confined to the halls of the conference center, I’ve found those kinds of people are everywhere in Maine if only you look for them, reach out to them, ask questions and participate. In general, Maine’s farmers are willing to share with you their knowledge, their experiences─stories of mishaps or success─and that’s what continues to grow Maine’s local food movement. That’s what makes it so inspiring and keeps people like me going even when the going is rocky. That is the heart of Maine and of our local food movement.

It’s a new year with new opportunities! Stay tuned folks!

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