Farmers Market Organizers Pleased with Turnout, Look to Extend Access to Fresh Produce

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With the pandemic shutdown in full force, the organizers of the Watertown Farmers Market had to consider whether they should host the weekly market in 2020 and, if so, how they could do it safely and whether people would come out. As the season nears its end, organizers are pleased with how the market turned out.

Stephanie Venizelos, the Town’s Community Wellness Program Manager and Farmers Market Manager, said the market at Saltonstall Park got a good crowd every Wednesday over the summer and into the fall.

“No one knew what to anticipate. We’ve been bringing in 500-700 people a week. Pretty amazing for a small weekday market,” Venizelos said. “We are thrilled about that. It tells us it was the right thing to do, and there is a demand for fresh local food.”

Shoppers came out despite having only half the number of vendors at the market than previous years, no entertainment and no community groups. Also, people often had to wait in line due to the COVID-19 regulations, sometimes for half-an-hour for produce from farm vendors.

Venizelos said that organizers got a lot of thank yous from people for having the market.

“People stop all the time and say they are so grateful for the market and that they feel safe,” Venizelos said. “People say how they are health compromised, and can’t go in markets, and the appreciate everything done (at the Watertown Market) to be safe.”

People also said they liked liked the location at the park next to Town Hall which provides shade, rather than being in a parking lot like many other farmers markets.

“For us those are successes,” Venizelos said. 

One goal of the market is to provide farm-fresh produce to people who may not have access, or be able to afford it normally, Venizelos said. The Watertown Farmers Market accepts SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) and the state’s HIP (Healthy Incentives Program) program which gives instant rebates and can only be used at farmers markets, and select farm stands and CSAs. The market offers a $15 match on people’s SNAP benefits, and recipients can get up to $60 in HIP a month for a family of 3-5.

“There is an instant rebate (for HIP), only available at farmers markets, farm stands or CSAs,” Venizelos said. “Just under 2,000 people in Watertown receive SNAP benefits. All those people could be coming to the farmers market and be using HIP. We are having less than 50 people using it per week.”

The final Watertown Farmers Market will be held on Oct. 14, but Venizelos said efforts are underway to create a CSA (community supported agriculture) program with one of its vendors, Dick’s Market Garden of Lunenberg. The farm will provide boxes of fresh produce that will available to be picked up at Saltonstall Park, and possibly other locations in Watertown, twice a month. To get underway, 75 people have to sign up.

The boxes would be available the second and fourth Tuesday of the month and will include fall and winter crops, such as apples, winter squash and potatoes.

Final details are still being worked out, butt the CSA will cost $40 a month, but will be free for SNAP recipients, Venizelos said.

For more information go to www.dicksmarketgardens.com, or email the Watertown Farmer’s Market at watertownmarket@gmail.com or Dick’s Market Garden at dmglunenburg@gmail.com

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