Amherst Farmers’ Market ‘puts a face to the farmer’

By Brendan Deady

Amanda Creegan/Daily Collegian
(Amanda Creegan/Daily Collegian)

Tammy Ryan looked over the Amherst Commons at the farmer’s market she helped coordinate. The vendors, with whom she had helped organize the event, were manning their tents a few feet away. To her left, John Houle of Chicopee bellowed out a raspy rendition of “Bad Leroy Brown” on a stage to an audience from the Stavros Center for Independent Living.

“Come on, how many reasons do you need [to come here]?” Ryan said. “All I know is that this is the place to be on Saturdays in Amherst.”

Ryan works with an Amherst Farmers’ Market Committee consisting of eight local producers to organize the event for 32 Saturdays in a row from April to November. On Sep. 19, Ryan took a break to look over another successful event.

Every Saturday, local farmers set up their tents from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the town common. They stock tables covered in red checkered cloth with barrels and bins of organic produce. Little dishes hold samples of cheese, hard ciders, syrups and wine.

Mark Fellows came to represent his dairy farm, Chase Hill, based in Warwick. His face was calm, and he spoke in short, quiet bursts.

“Coming here puts a face to the farmer, to the person who puts an immense amount of effort and skill into feeding your family,” Fellows said.

Three small bowls on the table before him held the last small cubes of blue and cheddar cheese samples.

A sign to his right offered organic grass-fed veal, pork and beef by the pound. A line underneath written in chalk encouraged shoppers to ask about bones, organs and fatback.

“People who boil fatback and use the oil to cook with, think it’s healthier than olive oil, Fellows said. “I think that’s why people come here, we’re the experts. This is our life work.”

A few stations down, Simple Gifts Farms had its tent set up. A few shoppers eyed through a Technicolor collection of fresh produce, picking and squeezing. A cardboard box held a batch of tomatoes.

Some bore deep scars on their skins, their shape never quite a perfect sphere but the random results of unfettered growth.

A banner hung above, explaining that all the carrots, cabbage, corn, yellow onions, eggplant, squash and rhubarb displayed under the tent was certified organic.

The collection of customers reflected the range of their options. Students, senior citizens and children of all races smiled, prodded, purchased and conversed with the vendors.

“The food here is just better quality,” Ryan said. “And this is a community. You’re buying food with your neighbors from farms less than 20 miles away.”

Across the cement aisle stood Keith Fowler, the main proprietor of Little Pond Flower Farm, surrounded by colorful bouquets of dahlias. Fowler, who has grown dahlias for almost 30 years, quickly pointed out that his name is an anagram for flowers.

He walked among the flowers of varying size and color and rattled off some of the names of the more than 50 varieties he grows.

“This one’s pink princess, this one marble ball,” Fowler said.

He stopped and grabbed the stock of a deep purple and violet dahlia, brought it to his nose, inhaled and smiled.

“This one’s called chocolate. If you take your time you can really catch a hint of the smell,” he said.

Fowler said he loves growing dahlias because it’s a self-fulfilling project. He enjoys watching the growth process and what nature does to produce varied colors without his influence.

“I still get the most gratification from seeing others buying my product, my craft really,” Fowler said.

According to Ryan, the market manager, the weekly event has more than just a positive effect on the local economy.

The Amherst Farmers’ Market offers shoppers a Snap and Save option which matches up to $5 for any customers using EBT benefits. The committee also collaborated with the Stavros Center for Independent Living, which offers programs for people with disabilities.

A group of physically disabled people stationed themselves under tents behind Ryan and, between smiles, scarfed down Dorito dogs and listened to Houle sing about that bad Leroy Brown.

“People usually say these events are too expensive to attend. Well now the farmers get paid, the less fortunate get to eat local healthy produce. Sounds good to me,” Ryan said.

As Ryan spoke a church bell clamored, stubborn and demanding through the sunny morning. A file of people exited the Grace Episcopal Church clad in black. The bell would ring 96 more times for the number of years the deceased lived.

As a family honored the end of one’s life, across the street, no less than 100 feet away, the Amherst Commons teemed with people celebrating it.

Brendan Deady can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @bdeady26.