Tag Archives: Lori Cochran-Dougall

Staples, Farmers’ Market, Gillespie Center: Seed, Feed And Lead

The Westport Farmers’ Market opened for its 12th season last month.

As usual, plenty of vendors offered everything from locally grown and raised produce and meat, to honey and bread.

The crowd was large. The vibe (and weather) was warm. Another year was underway.

And — for the 9th year — the Market will partner with 2 other important town programs: the Gillespie Center, and Staples High School’s culinary classes.

It’s a win-win-win. In fact, it’s one of the most intriguing partnerships around.

Once a month — at the end of Thursdays, as vendors close up — the Farmers’ Market purchases unsold food. Volunteers transport it to Staples.

There, chef Cecily Gans’ students create unique menus, and prepare wholesome, nutritious meals. The Farmers’ Market picks those up and takes them to the Gillespie Center — Westport’s emergency shelter.

Gans’ students — with help from Rotary Club members and the Farmers’ Market — then serve the meals they’ve cooked.

“Seed, feed and educate” is the way WFM director Lori Cochran-Dougall describes the 3-prong partnership. They call it “Farms to School to Community.”

“We’re lucky to live in a privileged area,” she says. “This program allows kids to see neighbors who have fallen on hard times in a different light.”

Relationships bloom. Last year, an older man gruffly refused vegetables.

“My mom always says to eat all your vegetables,” a girl replied.

His face softened. He took some.

Fresh strawberries, tomatoes and other produce are used creatively — and deliciously by Staples’ culinary students.

Soon, he was back for more. He told the teenager he had not tasted tomatoes like that since his mother served them.

“People in Westport are very generous with their donations to the Gillespie Center,” Gans says. “But there’s not a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We bring in high, nutrient-dense foods. That makes a difference. Think about how you or I would function if we didn’t eat well.”

Gans’ students appreciate the opportunity to cook for the residents — and to make their menus count. Each month, the ingredients are different.

Among the recipes: Hungarian gulyas; butternut squash pasta; asparagus with miso lemon dressing; quinoa tabouleh with parsley and mint, and curried pumpkin with raisin.

“They think outside the box,” their instructor says. “They’re creative. They get the opportunity to serve, and see the needs of their community. Their level of responsibility really impresses me.”

Three graduating seniors — Christian Franceze, Alex Ialeggio and Ryan Liu — have been involved for all 4 years at Staples. Next year, Gans counts on juniors to fill their shoes.

Chef Cecily Gans’ students prepare food for the Gillespie Center.

The students build strong relationships with the WFM farmers and vendors. “We’re there at the beginning of the Farmers’ Market season, and the end,” Gans says. “We do whatever we can for them. They do the same for us.”

Cochran-Dougall echoes that sentiment. The director praises everyone in the community who participates — including the major funders, the Rotary and Sunrise Rotary Clubs.

In return, the Staples students print and share the menus they’ve created. It’s one more way to help nourish the town.

(Interested in donating to the Westport Farmers’ Market for this project? Click here — and earmark it for the Gillespie Center.)

A Farmers’ Market Tale

Today, the Westport Farmers’ Market begins its 12th season.

Its growth — from tentative beginnings in the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot, to a vibrant, beloved and very popular Imperial Avenue Thursday tradition — is remarkable.

A typical scene at the Westport Farmers’ Market.

Every shopper, farmer and vendor has their own story about what the Market means to them.

But none is more remarkable than this.

Each week, the Bridgeport Rescue Mission selects men to pick up extra food. They bring the produce, bread and more back to the center, where chefs make meals. They also offer recipes to folks who pick up the food that’s not cooked.

The honor to be selected to gather the goods is reserved for men who are winning their battles against alcohol or drug addiction.

Two helpers from the Bridgeport Rescue Mission pick up produce at the Westport Farmers’ Market. (Photo courtesy of CTBites.com)

“These guys are great,” says WFM director Lori Cochran-Dougall. “We get to know them well. They’re so supportive of our staff and the vendors. They stay, they help us break down the tents, they do so much for us.”

Last year, one man came every Thursday. He was excited about graduating from the Rescue Mission. But he worried he might not find a job.

At the end of the market season last November, he still did not have one. Cochran contacted a few area restaurants.

One hired him. But she didn’t know it …

… until a couple of weeks ago, when she and her husband went out for dinner at a Barcelona group restaurant.

The man approached her. He told her he was working there.

He added that he goes to church every Sunday. He has his own apartment.

And he got married.

Joyfully, he showed her pictures of his new life.

As Cochran left, the restaurant manager pulled her aside.

“All he keeps saying,” the manager said, “is that the Farmers’ Market gave him hope things would work out.”

Paul Newman Still Helps Farmers’ Market Grow

Sure, it’s winter. But there’s always something stirring at the Westport Farmers’ Market.

The long-running food hub — operating through March on Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Gilbertie’s on Sylvan Lane South — has just received a $10,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation.

It’s a great connection for the 2 Westport-based organizations. The foundation — formed in 2005 by our own Paul Newman — focuses on 4 areas with the potential for transformational change. They include philanthropy, children, employment — and nutrition.

The Farmers’ Market, meanwhile, provides fresh, local, healthy and seasonal food to the community, while promoting education about local food and farms, and sustainable growing practices.

A typical scene at the Westport Farmers' Market.

A typical scene at the Westport Farmers’ Market.

Lori Cochran-Dougall, WFM executive director, calls the grant “especially poignant.” After all, Newman helped found the market in 2006.

“Paul Newman and Michael Nischan” — Newman’s friend and partner in, among other things, the Dressing Room restaurant adjacent to the WFM’s 1st location in the Westport Country Playhouse’ parking lot — “brought life to the market we know and love today,” Cochran-Dougall says.

“Over the years we have proudly referred to Mr. Newman’s contributions and relished stories from Westporters who crossed his path at Town Hall on the days he was on a mission to get the market up and running.”

Paul Newman, flanked by Lori Cochran-Dougall and Michel Nischan, proudly sporting Westport Farmers' Market gear.

Paul Newman, flanked by Lori Cochran-Dougall and Michel Nischan.

Over a decade later, the market is thriving. It boasts some of the strictest standards for participation in the state, over 40 vendors, and that active indoor winter market.

The Newman’s Own funds will help the Farmer’s Market increase the breadth and depth of its programming.

“We’re not sure how to express our gratitude for this grant,” Cochran-Dougall says. “But we will work even harder to honor the founders who planted this seed.”

Farmers’ Market Grows Into 2nd Delicious Decade

All farmers’ markets open in a burst of optimism.

Many — up to half — don’t make it past 2 years. Most — another 30 percent — fail by year 5.

The Westport Farmers’ Market is not like most.

As the Imperial Avenue institution prepares for its 10th season, it’s not just a success. It’s flourishing wildly — reaping rewards not just for farmers and food-lovers but entire families, and even Fairfield County non-profits.

Westport Farmers Market 2Sustaining a farmers’ market for a decade is just like farming: It takes patience, persistence and plenty of hard work.

When Lori Cochran took over as executive director 5 years ago, the market was limping along. It had begun in the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot with great backing from Dressing Room owners Paul Newman and Michel Nischan, plus tremendous town support from selectmen Gordon Joseloff and Shelly Kassen.

After half a decade it was popular with a core group of shoppers and a small number of farmers. But there was no marketing, community outreach or special programming.

Working with Rebecca Howe, Lori dedicated herself to making the farmers’ market an integral part of the town. “Not to be cheesy, but all of us here live, eat and breathe this,” she says.

On the food side, Westport’s market has the strictest requirements of any in the state. All vegetables are organic. The fruit is grown without pesticides or herbicides. Anyone selling prepared food must use at least one locally produced ingredient, for every item — ideally, from another market farmer.

That develops a strong community of vendors who support each other.

Lori created a partnership with Staples High School and the Gillespie Center. The Westport Farmers’ Market buys local food; students in Staples’ culinary program prepare it, and market volunteers serve it at the homeless shelter just across Jesup Road.

Every week, the market hosts a different non-profit. The organization showcases its work. Many create special programs for market-goers.

The Farmers’ Market works closely with the Bridgeport Rescue Mission too. Members come to the market every Thursday. They collect food, donated by vendors. Back at the mission, a chef helps them use the ingredients to prepare great meals.

On the 3rd Thursday of every month, a local chef offers demonstrations. Only those who use farm-to-table ingredients participate. The waiting list is long, Lori notes.

Farmers MarketEach spring, several Staples seniors work at the market as interns. One has gone on to head up the organic market at his college; another founded a community supported agriculture organization at hers. They’ve grown up knowing the importance of a local farmers’ market.

So do younger kids. Thanks to partnerships with the Westport Library and Westport Arts Center, youngsters hear stories involving food, and make arts projects with vegetables. Lori is thrilled to help nurture a new generation of Westporters who understand the importance of farmers’ markets.

This year, the Westport market will introduce an “Ambassadors” program. “A lot of times people buy great stuff, but they get home and don’t know what to do with it all,” Lori explains. “So every month we’ll feature 1 lunch and 1 dinner recipe, featuring ingredients from the market. We’ll have ‘ambassadors’ right there, suggesting the best ways to use certain products.”

Lori Cochran-Dougall

Lori Cochran

Lori is proud that the Westport Farmers’ Market has become such an integral part of the community. (Along with its novel addition, the 4-year-old Winter Market held at Gilberties’ Herb Garden.)

“Westport is an incredibly dynamic, supportive place,” Lori says. “Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner (1st and 2nd selectmen) do everything they can for us.”

Her mission this year — beginning on opening day May 21, and continuing through the fall — is for every Westporter to enjoy the farmers’ market bounty.

“We bring quality, healthy food from local farmers right to people’s back yards,” she says. “Everyone supports everyone else.”

They eat very well while doing it, too.

(The Westport Farmers’ Market kicks off its 10th season on Thursday, May 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Imperial Avenue parking lot. The “official celebration” on Thursday, June 11 features music, activities, and a tribute to the 8 founding farmers who are still there.)

Westport Farmers’ Market: 10 Years And Growing

Farmers’ markets can be like produce: Someone plants a seed. They grow and thrive. Eventually though, they wither and die.

Not so with the Westport Farmers’ Market. Stalls open in May for its 10th season — a very impressive feat.

To mark the occasion, it’s got a new tagline: “10 Years & Growing.”

And a new contest: a t-shirt competition.

Farmers MarketWFM director Lori Cochran-Dougall invites anyone to submit a design. It should incorporate the tagline, and embody the WFM ideals: providing fresh, local, healthy and seasonal food to the community, in a fun, safe and healthy environment.

Designs can be for the front, back or sleeves of the t-shirt. They should be submitted electronically, in low-resolution format, to: director@westportfarmersmarket.com. Deadline is March 15.

The prize: seeing your design worn all summer long. While helping the Westport Farmers’ Market grow even more, for the next 10 years.

Farmer’s Market Forks It Over

The Whelk was hopping tonight.

Bill Taibe’s popular, sustainably fresh Saugatuck restaurant hosted the 3rd of 4 Westport Farmers’ Market “Fork It Over” fundraisers.

Farmers MarketIn addition to the Whelk’s great food — the Mexican theme included guacamole with grasshoppers (!); ceviche with local shrimp, lobsters and razor clams; tacos including chorizo and burnt scallions, blood sausage and squash, and smoked brisket and adobo — there was sangria and watermelon tequila punch from Saugatuck Grain & Grape, the Whelk’s around-the-corner neighbor. All the fruit and vegetables came from Easton’s Sport Hill Farm.

Taibe, and chefs Geoff Lazlo and Avi Benson of The Whelk and Le Farm, mingled with the 60 guests, and spoke about their dishes.

They — and all the food purveyors — were happy to help the Farmers’ Market. They believe in its mission: helping “real farmers connect with real consumers over real food.”

The Farmers’ Market does that in many ways, beyond its May-to-November Thursday Imperial Avenue markets. There’s a Saturday winter market, at Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens.

Plus, the food that Staples High School’s culinary classes use, when they prepare meals for the Gillespie Center.

And the usual expenses for any non-profit: insurance, attorneys, accountants…

Lori Cochran-Dougall, Westport Farmers' Market director.

Lori Cochran-Dougall, Farmers’ Market director.

The winter market costs organizers $15,000 a year. Director Lori Cochran-Dougall says the Farmers’ Market has raised vendors’ fees only $50 over the past 8 years.

That’s why the Market is running these “Fork It Over” fundraisers. And doing it in their typical fun, friendly fashion.

If you missed the 1st 3, no problem. Tickets go on sale tomorrow (Monday, October 7) for the final event (Sunday, October 20).

To get info, you must be on the Farmers’ Market email list (click here).

But even with tickets, you won’t find out where the event is — or the theme — until the morning of the dinner.

Kind of like going to the Farmers’ Market itself, and happily discovering whatever is on sale that day.