I’m donning my hat as Director of the Madison Farmers’ Market for this post, to unabashedly promote the market and our upcoming “Farmer Talent Show”.
It was a selfish endeavor, really─when I undertook to organize a farmers’ market in my rural hometown of Madison, Maine. I was a beginning farmer looking for a market close-to-home where I could sell my products to the community. The Madison Farmers’ Market is going into it’s 6th year now and it has become one of the most positive things in my life: a community of fellow farmers and caring patrons committed to fresh, nutritious food and to supporting their local economy.
In a part of Maine where the loss of manufacturing mills and the waning timber industry has left 12% or more of all households living below the poverty line, I see a return to our agricultural roots as a huge opportunity for the people who live here. We can use agriculture as a means to boost our rural economies. Agriculture can enhance food security, reduce poverty through rural development, and we can even reduce the environmental impact of agricultural production. Pastoral economies need to take responsibility for themselves, promote creative new businesses that can sell to customers from outside the community and the new local food movement opens a lot of doors for those who are willing to think outside the box.
It’s been difficult to attract new farmers to the Madison Farmers’ Market because it is not a big money market like the Portland Farmers’ Market or the Lewiston-Auburn Farmers’ Market. Farmers who are making their weekly paychecks in a single farmers’ market want to join established markets where the customer base is reliable. In Madison, we’ve been faced with educating the community about the benefits and realities of food production as we grow our market in this traditionally conservative rural Maine community. This role is also not something that every farmer wants to take responsibility for.
As a result, the farmers I’ve managed to recruit for our rural farmers’ market are all located within a 20-mile radius of Madison, Maine. They are dedicated to this region because it’s their home, and they’re devoted to the community we’ve cultivated, committed to the support of each other, and together as a group we make up the Madison Farmers’ Market─one of the friendliest markets you’ll ever visit. We just enjoy each other’s company, and we enjoy the time spent outdoors selling our wares, doing what farmers are born to do: feed the people and nurture the Earth.
Accepting SNAP/EBT at the Madison Farmers’ Market has been instrumental in the growth of our community of faithful market-shoppers. Once we began participating in the Maine Harvest Bucks program, the Madison Farmers’ Market really saw a dramatic increase in attendance as low-income families came to take advantage of the “Bonus Bucks”.
Here’s how it Maine Harvest Bucks works:
The program is geared toward increasing the nutritional value of the federal nutrition assistance dollars─SNAP/EBT. It allows those shoppers to buy more healthy food, supports local farmers, and keeps food dollars within the local economy.
Since we serve a part of the state that is economically depressed, the members of the Madison Farmers’ Market are all in consensus that it’s important to be able to offer this program at our market. None of us are getting rich doing this, but we’re serving our community and working in direct support of ourselves and in direct support of the people around us. It all brings a sense of intrinsic reward that lends meaning and value to the farmer.
Each year, well before the start of the market season, the market applies with the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets to participate in the Maine Harvest Bucks nutrition incentive program. MFFM secures federal funding and various grants for the program, and then redistributes funds to participating markets accordingly. This year however, there is a funding gap and participating markets like Madison’s have had to decide whether or not to temporarily suspend their MHB programs, or to take on the responsibility of raising the funds themselves to cover the costs of the incentive-program.
Members of the Madison Farmers’ Market were adamant that we should do everything we can to keep this program running, and to that end I’ve devised a fundraising strategy to help us raise the $800 dollars the market needs to support the Maine Harvest Bucks incentives─including a really exciting Farmer Talent Show!
In return for a donation we’re offering a fun-filled show for the whole family, with free popcorn. There will be a raffle and a bake sale, too. I’m working on lining up special Guest Judges, and prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place performances. Already Johnny’s Selected Seeds has donated a tub-trug of garden supplies in response to the flyers I put up about the office, and the emails I sent to the entire company announcing my search for farmers with talent.
We’re looking for farmers and gardeners from across the state of Maine, and especially those who are local to central Maine, to perform in our Farmer Talent Show. Open to any special talent: musicians, singers, dancers, rappers, actors, comedians, magicians and more─and, while we’re putting farmers in the spotlight, the members of the Madison Farmers’ Market are an inclusive group and we would never turn away anyone who wanted to perform.
So far we’ve got 3 acts─including myself with my friend and banjo instructor Ken Hahn. When I told Ken about the upcoming show he offered to play alongside me, and we’ve already picked out 3 songs to polish up before the big event. It’s going to be a really great time, so if you’re reading this and you’re a Maine-resident─and especially if you’re local to Madison and the Somerset County area─be sure to help us spread the word!
Find the Madison Farmers’ Market on Facebook and share our Farmer Talent Show event with friends. OR: share our Talent Wanted graphic (available on our Facebook page) on your timeline to let friends and family in your network know that we’re looking for talented people to perform. Stay tuned for more updates coming soon from Runamuk!