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Amherst reminds farmers market to make room for local producers

Although the Select Board recently approved the request to close Spring Street and portions of Boltwood Avenue from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each Saturday until Nov. 22, there are lingering concerns that Amherst farmers are not fully welcomed.

Select Board member Andrew Steinberg said he would like to get details about how additional space allotted to Amherst farmers is working and that the desire of Amherst farmers to participate is being met.

Though the committee that oversees the market agreed to expand the number of participants last June, and to guarantee a spot for all Amherst farmers, Steinberg said he is worried the newcomers lack visibility within the market, which traditionally has had all vendors set up on Spring Street.

“I didn’t get the sense they got the kind of welcoming and participation we were looking for,” Steinberg said.

Jeremy Barker-Plotkin, a member of the market committee who runs Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst, said he is not aware of any Amherst farmers being excluded. “We had a number of Amherst farms that applied last year. They all came to the market,” he said.

Barker-Plotkin said he expects that same protocol as last year will be used, with any Amherst farmers who apply being accommodated.

Kristie Speck, the market manager, said the application process lasts all year and applications can be downloaded at amherstfarmersmarket.com.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek, who serves as liaison to the Agricultural Commission, said between four and six Amherst farms were added last year, which represented a significant step forward in ensuring the market reflected the local producers.

“I see a lot of optimism there, a lot of progress,” Ziomek said.

Town Manager John Musante said he believes the expansion has worked and appreciates the Select Board checking in with the Agricultural Commission to ensure this continues.

“The basic goal and objective remains the same — we want a thriving market that offers increased opportunities for Amherst-area farmers to participate,” Musante said.

Barker-Plotkin said he had conversations with the Agricultural Commission during the winter, which did not indicate any concerns with access, although he acknowledged locations of all booths are not ideal.

One issue, he said, is for farmers who set up on Boltwood Avenue in front of the Lord Jeffery Inn. Because it is away from Spring Street, getting customers to venture there is challenging.

Speck said this extension of the market does not begin until the end of June, when many of the part-time vendors begin coming every week.

The market is also trying to balance what is offered to ensure a diversity of produce and that everyone is not selling the same items.

“I feel like we’re working on trying to increase both vendors and product,” Barker-Plotkin said. “We’re always working on improving.”

Barker-Plotkin said more than 30 producers will make up the market and will sell products ranging from meats to salad greens to breads, pastries and yogurt.

More vitality will be added, he said, possibly by bringing music, entertainment and children’s activities. “We are working on making the market more exciting,” Barker-Plotkin said

Speck, though, said that because decisions are made through a democratic process, changes to the look and feel of the four-decades-old market would not necessarily happen quickly.

“People are coming to the market almost as much to meet the farmers as they are to buy product,” Speck said.

She noted that as a “Class A” market, all items sold come straight from the fields to customers.

The market organizers are working with the town’s Health Department to offer more prepared food on site, Speck said.

Among new vendors this year will be Cape Cod Fish Share of Brewster and Dew Green Farm and Turkish Kitchen of Ashfield.

The market will also continue to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and EBT cards so people of all economic means can shop there.

Speck said tokens will be sold at the yellow information booth and the market is seeking volunteers to operate the SNAP machine and to repair the tiny building, which has fallen into disrepair and has several broken windows. The market will likely offer some tokens in exchange for assistance in fixing the booth, Speck said.

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