THE PORTLAND PALATE
Portland Farmers Market
252 years of excellence in fresh, local produce
Review and Photos by James Fereira
Summer in Maine is finally here. Along with it comes the superfluity of outdoor activities which we so enjoy and associate with it, including the Portland Farmers Market.
Despite the devastating impact which Covid-19 has had on our economy and community, the market prevails. It opened in late April under stricter safety guidelines. Although I was initially reluctant to visit, I’ve since “gotten over myself” and made a couple of trips, one with friend Fran.
Many things are notably different, including the fact that the market now operates solely at Deering Oaks Park on both Wednesdays and Saturdays (in order to allow for physical distancing, which was not feasible at the usual Wednesday location in Monument Square).
Follow the Loop (& New Rules)
Up to forty vendors are trailer-length apart in a large oval loop with oak trees as a backdrop. It abuts the kiddie wading pool and duck pond on one side, and the sports courts and children’s playground on the other.
Signs encourage one-direction perambulating through the loop. Facemasks are required and there are signs reminding visitors of Covid-safety best practices.
Also, you’ll find signs warning of the presence of the menacing brown tail moth caterpillars. I wish those had been posted in June (and yes, I am still dealing with the aftermath of that merciless encounter you read about in the July issue). Ugh!
There are conspicuous entry points at the market. Having arrived toward closing time, I observed some interactions, wondering if the volunteer monitors had become fatigued at that point, enough not to feel compelled to convey compliance with masking? We saw a few people without them and some on skateboards and bicycles, breezing through the loop in an impolitic direction.
The market had a chill vibe about it but a sense of caution, too. It felt odd in a way, as formerly there was a bustling energy and great people-watching here. It’s a trade-off now: crowds and community versus personal space and safety.
However, I liked the greater distance between shoppers. I never felt boxed-in from anyone unintentionally sideswiping me as they try to snag an especially attractive leek or pint of raspberries.
For 252 Years…
Portland’s market, as best my research could establish, is the fifth oldest continuously running farmers market in the U.S., and the oldest in New England. It started in 1768 before Portland was called Portland.
The market is tried-and-true and fun to visit. Farmers markets support and exemplify the ‘Buy Local’ enterprise at its very core. There are many advantages to supporting them – for farmers, consumers, and communities alike.
Historically, Maine’s land and economy, is of course, pastoral. So, it is unsurprising that we would have an old and awesome farmers’ market here.
Enjoy the Harvest!
Some of the vendors come from hours away, which means you know they’ve been up since well before the crack of dawn. Check-out the list of vendors at www.PortlandMaineFarmersMarket.org.
I shopped these vendors during my Wednesday visits:
- Olde Mill Farm, Brownfield
- Snell Family Farm, Buxton
- Alewives Brook Farm, Cape Elizabeth
- Merrifield Farm, Cornish
- Goranson Farm, Dresden
- Uncle’s, Hollis
- Meadowood Farm, Yarmouth
- Balfour Farm, Pittsfield
For under $34.00 I purchased: butter lettuce, green leaf lettuce, strawberries, yellow and red tomatoes, green onion, highbush blueberries, garlic scapes, new red potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and a quart of lemon yogurt.
There is a market information booth that has the scoop on the market and how it operates. Vendors vary in what they accept for types of payment, but generally you’ll do good to bring cash, and credit/debit.
In 2012, the Cultivating Community initiative began, and now SNAP recipients can shop using their EBT. SNAP works at the market by using a wooden token system to buy produce.
You can sign up for the Maine Harvest Bucks Program, giving you a complimentary perk on a 2-for-1 fresh veggies and/or fruits deal. This program is reciprocal with Portland Food Co-op, Rosemont Market/West End, and other purveyors throughout Maine. Visit www.MaineHarvestBucks.org for more details.
In 2010, “Travel and Leisure” magazine ranked the Portland Farmers Market in the “Top 10 Best Farmers Markets in the United States.” The Market is always seeking, and grateful to receive, volunteers. They also offer a Market Sponsorship, and Friends of the Market Programs, in concert with vendors and businesses.
The Portland Farmers Market is a 10-minute walk from Congress Street. It is located near the #2, 4, and 5 METRO bus routes, and for car-people, good luck finding parking. It can be had if you apply patience and gratitude.
A couple of notes about the Portland Farmers Market during COVID: street artists and buskers are not permitted right now, according to their website. Nor are non-profit vendors, who informally set-up their small crafts tables.
That being said, I thought I saw a couple of dissenters and there was definitely a street-performer/musician doing their thing at each of my visits.
I love Portland Farmers Market… I had forgotten how much.
I’ll be back soon for the fresh, local lowbush blueberries, and corn-on-the-cob, and the colorful palette of late summer, and all things autumn.
James Fereira has a background in tour guiding, roller coaster operation, and public speaking. In his spare time he enjoys white water rafting and questioning authority. James can be reached at ThePortlandPalate@gmail.com.