Lettuce and Onions and Peas. Oh, My!

If memory serves, the opening day of the Presque Isle Farmers’ Market in May of 2015 was cold, blustery and a freezing rain was falling. When the season opens this year on Saturday, May 14, vendors and shoppers alike will be hoping for sunshine, blue skies and balmy temperatures.

Customers are longing for fresh, local vegetables, meat and flowers and extras such as fresh eggs and delicious smelling locally roasted coffee.

A group of last summer’s customers was surveyed recently. What are you looking forward to when the market opens? “I look forward to greeting neighbors and friends each week and sharing our thoughts as to the best buy of the day,” Lois Griffiths said. “I can’t imagine a summer without the Farmers’ Market.”

Alice Sheppard added, “I like the Aroostook Centre Mall market because the food is tasty and has eye appeal. It is also fresh, healthy, grown in nutrient-rich soil, with typically few, if any, pesticides.”

Kim Sebold likes going to the Amish vendor, Joseph Zook. He brings in peaches in late summer like the ones she grew up with.

Jim Brown and Kim Becker of Whole Earth Farm have a booth that Kim-Anne Perkins heads for. She says, “They are proud of their products and take time to tell me little aspects of them.”

Summing up, Gail Roy said she looks forward to “being able to shop outside on a sunny day!”

Do these shoppers have favorite items they are looking forward to? That question is hard to answer. Kim-Anne Perkins likes “fresh eggs that are not all the same size or color!” Lois Grifiths looks forward to “the little cherry/grape tomatoes sold by Hidden Meadow Farms.” Others mentioned “the cauliflower from Whole Earth that looks like a jewel.” and “surprise flowers each week from the ‘Flower Lady,’” Barbara York, and of course the “big, ugly, exceptionally tasty tomatoes from Joseph Zook.” For Kim Sebold it is the “huge first strawberries from Goughan’s” or the sage cheese bread made by Katie Gingerich, the Amish baker. Everyone agreed that a season highlight was “the first corn of the season from Mark Goughan. He always throws in an extra ear for good measure.”   Alice Sheppard probably said it best: “I am sure I don’t have a ‘favorite.’ I visit the tables in the order in which I judge they are most likely to sell out of what I want!”

Gail Maynard, of Orchard Hill Farm, president of the Presque Isle Farmers’ Market, said recently that exciting changes are coming this season.

The biggest change, explained Patti Crooks, general manager of the Aroostook Centre Mall, is the location. The market will be a hundred feet or so from the previous site. It will be in an indoor-outdoor location at the entrance to what used to be the Sears men’s clothing retail space. There is electricity, proximity to bathrooms and an escape from bad weather. On the outside will be eye-catching hunter green and sunflower yellow columns and a colorful banner to announce the location. It is possible that there will be a “munchies” food truck and picnic tables. Maybe a seafood truck will be there.

For almost two decades the market has been in the Aroostook Centre Mall parking lot. It was originally located in Caribou. Finding the exactly right location there became a problem and the group moved to its present location. Natalia Bragg of Knot II Bragg Farm and Goughan Farms are the only founding members left. The Presque Isle Farmers’ Market is an independent organization, governed by a set of officers, with its own bylaws. Vendors are all members with voting privileges and each pays an annual membership fee of $50. Products are all local or “value added” locally produced items.

The market is frequently confused with the Riverside Public Market. The public market has been located in downtown Presque Isle since 2014. It is run by a committee of the city of Presque Isle, the Riverside Public Market Committee. Local products are sold there as well, including many handcrafted items.

The vendors at the Farmers’ Market look forward to market day. Replying to a survey, they all mentioned that the market is a place for them to show that there is a real face behind a product. Customers can ask questions, get recipes, learn growing tips, meet the farm family. “Food at the market is ‘in season’ and successfully grown right here in the County,” Anne Chase of Delphinium Farms said. “I want customers to have a healthy, local affordable choice of vegetables and pork products that don’t have to travel 3000 miles to get here,” added Deena Parks of Chops Ahoy Farm.

The same survey revealed a lot of market trivia. Did you know that Goughan Farms signs up 400 seniors for the Maine Senior Share program that gives out $50 worth of free fresh vegetables? Or that the most popular product sold by Natalia Bragg of Knot II Bragg Farm is an 1895 product “Old Log Drivers Arthritic Formula?” And would you have guessed that Hidden Meadows Farm workers planted 9000 onion seeds in February? There are four Ehst children working on the Hidden Meadows Farm in Bridgewater. There are three Goughan children plus one spouse, plus three grandchildren working on their farm in Caribou. Deena Parks covers her Asian greens with row covers to keep away the flea beetles, an organic solution to the problem.

New to the market this summer will be asparagus from Phil and Jackie Doak and home-roasted coffee by the cup from Storibord owner, Ben Nason. Randel and Pam Argella, recent arrivals from Missouri, will be at a new booth, featuring an interesting collection of onion starts, as well as heirloom tomatoes and eggplants. Hopefully, Tim O’Meara, 10, will be back selling his carrots and radishes.

Customers can help the farmers in little ways. They can bring back containers; bring plastic shopping bags; have small bills and lots of change; tell your friends; spread the word. Lettuce and onions and peas will be waiting each Saturday from 9-1. The coffee will be brewing. The sun will be out!