Everyone who loves the Westport Farmers’ Market — in other words, everyone — loves Lori Cochran-Dougall.
The dynamic director of the nearly-year-round Thursday event (outdoors at the Imperial Avenue parking lot from May to November; inside at Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center greenhouses from now through March) has made shopping the Market much more than just shopping for lettuce and tomatoes.
The array of goods is staggering. (Sourdough bread! Tacos! Organic pet food!)
The programming — helping area non-profits, showcasing musicians, welcoming high school interns — is crucial. It creates more than a market. It’s a community.
How did the Roanoke, Virginia native wind up in Westport (by way of Jackson Hole, Wyoming)? What are her goals for the Farmers’ Market? Who are her favorite vendors?!
Click below to see our recent chat at the Westport Library Trefz Forum. As everyone always does at the Farmers’ Market: We had fun!
Once again, the Westport Farmers’ Market has transitioned from its winter indoor season to the 6-month outdoor one. Executive director Lori Cochran-Dougall celebrates by nominating a stalwart support as “06880”’s Unsung Hero of the Week. She writes:
Becoming a legend takes devotion.
When I embarked on my early days at the Farmers’ Market, I kept hearing about a legendary farmer. I heard about Sal Gilbertie’s books, his knowledge of organics, his family business in Westport, his devotion to his church, and his community involvement in Easton and Westport with agriculture.
Each time his name was mentioned, it came with a compliment and admiration.
Sal Gilbertie, in the field.
When I met Sal, we formed a friendship that has lasted over a decade. He always has a quick, warm smile and a hug for people dear to him.
Though I want to say ours is a special friendship, the reality is that Sal makes everyone feel as if they are special to him.
For me, he has supported my desire to help local farmers and small mom-and-pop businesses. When I was new and didn’t know anyone — and I wasn’t a farmer myself — he took time to introduce me to other farmers. He put his seal of approval on my efforts.
After my successful first summer at the Westport Farmers’ Market, I had an idea. One weekend that fall, Sal and I went to an agricultural event. I saw his beautiful old truck with the Gilbertie’s Herb Garden logo.
I asked, “What would you think about the Farmers’ Market renting a greenhouse at Gilbertie’s and opening a winter market?” Without hesitation he said, “Sure!”
One thing I love about farmers in general: Their word is their bond. Sal is a great example of this type of honor. His willingness to help people, to believe in them, and his desire to support his community gave us a home for the past 10 years. It is a winter event haven for many Westporters.
Year after year, this family-owned business continues to grow. They’ve watched farmland turn to houses and businesses come and go, yet they have survived (and thrived) in the same location.
With Sal at the helm, they reinvented their business as demands have changed. It is exciting to think about celebrating this family, this man and this business as a community.
Sal now spends most of his time in Easton. He continues to farm organically, and recently embarked on a micro-greens business at the state-of-the-art facility he created there.
I am jealous of his energy, which comes from love. He loves what he does. He loves the land. He loves his family and the business they created. With that kind of love, energy is boundless.
Sal is devoted to his faith. If you attend his church on Easter or most holidays, you’ll find the altar covered in flowers. Sal is the reason it brims with greenery. He carries truckloads of plants inside, and places each one himself.
Each morning as I head to work or get the kids to school, I see Sal’s car in the parking lot for morning Mass.
There are many more stories I could share about this man who has been such a great friend to me and the Westport Farmers’ Market. With the type of devotion Sal has, he is truly a legend – and in this case, an Unsung Hero.
One more shot of our Unsung Hero.
(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
In addition to the bounty available every Thursday — plus music, education and community-building — the WFM reaches out to kids.
Every year, the Market’s “Young Shoots” photography contest engages creative teens and tweens. They train their fresh eye on fresh produce, flowers and more. The results are inspiring.
“Starstem” by Calista Finkelstein placed 1st in 2016, in the 8-10 category.
The Westport Farmers’ Market reopened with full shopping this past week. But — in an abundance of caution — this year’s “Young Shoots” photo contest will be different.
Youngsters will show what the Market means to their homes. They’ll submit images of the produce, flowers and prepared foods they and their families buy — and how it all looks, in their kitchens and dining rooms.
“Young Shoots is an opportunity for kids to demonstrate their creativity through digital photography while at the same time appreciating the beauty of real food,” says Lori Cochran-Dougall, WFM executive director.
“This year we are excited to see the market in their homes through their artwork. It will bring a fresh variety of images to this program.
“This is one of my favorite programs of the market. These kids are our future. We love to see the appreciation they have for real food in such a creative way.”
Anastasia Davis won 1st place in 2016 in the 11-14 age group for this shot.
There are 3 age groups: 8-10 years old, 11-14 and 15-18. Photos are judged by local artists (and a chef). The public can also vote for their favorites.
First place winners in each category receive $100; runners-up get $50. All photos will be on display at Sugar & Olives in Norwalk.
Posted onMay 30, 2019|Comments Off on Ken Bernhard, Lori Cochran-Dougall: First Citizens Of Westport
In the vast constellation of stars that make Westport shine, it’s tough picking 2 of the brightest.
But the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce has done a stellar job. Lori Cochran-Dougall and Ken Bernhard will be honored Wednesday, June 12 (6:30 p.m., Westport Inn) at the organization’s First Citizen Award dinner.
The duo will be joined by 4 “Young Entrepreneur” honorees, from Staples and Weston High Schools: Ryan Felner, Lilly Garone, Garrett Meyerson and Brianna Zeiberg. Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz is the keynote speaker. Each year the Chamber honors one Westporter from the non-profit world, and one from the business sector.
Cochran-Dougall is well known — and beloved — as executive director of the Westport Farmers’ Market. She’s made it not just a place to purchase great, fresh produce and organic goods, but a true community gathering spot, with entertainment and education too. Every Thursday from May through November, the Imperial Avenue lot pulses with life and good vibes.
Cochran-Dougall grew up in Roanoke, Virginia — home of the oldest continually operating farmers’ market in the country. Before coming to Westport, she chaired the Jackson Hole, Wyoming Farmers’ Market board of directors.
Her achievements here include gaining 501(c)(3) status for the market (a rarity); implementing a winter’s market; working with area chefs and farmers to find solutions to food distribution issues, and advocating for agri-tourism.
Bernhard — the other honoree — is a principal in Cohen and Wolf’s municipal, business and corporate, real estate, family law and appellate groups.
He spent 8 years representing Westport in the General Assembly, rising to assistant minority leader. He was 3rd selectman from 1987-89, after which he was elected to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
He is or has been a member of many boards, including the Westport Library, Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, Norwalk Human Services Council, Earthplace, Westport Historical Society, Levitt Pavilion, Aspetuck Land Trust, Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, and Connecticut League of Conservation Voters.
Bernhard helped found the Syria Fund, which provides support and education to refugees in Jordan. He’s deeply involved with the Tree of Life Orphanage in Haiti, which educates and feeds over 200 children, while creating jobs for adults.
He organizes shoe collection drives for Soles4Souls, shipping thousands of shoes to children around the world. He and his wife Alice have also raised 7 guide dogs.
If you want something done, the saying goes, ask a busy person.
On June 12, Lori Cochran-Dougall and Ken Bernhard will slow down long enough to be honored. “06880” joins the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce in saluting these 2 superbly deserving First Citizens.
(For more information and tickets to the First Citizen Award event, click here.)
Comments Off on Ken Bernhard, Lori Cochran-Dougall: First Citizens Of Westport
Farmers’ markets are cool. They usually have fresh produce. Shopping there boosts local economies. It’s hassle-free and homey.
The Westport Farmers’ Market is that — and much, much more. It’s dynamic, constantly evolving, and a true community event.
One element contributing to all that is programming. There are demonstrations, projects, and ongoing partnerships.
One of the most creative and meaningful is called Farmers to Veterans to Community. The program gives military vets affiliated with Homes for the Brave in Bridgeport a chance to prepare farm-fresh food under the guidance of WFM’s vast chef network.
Homes for the Brave helps homeless men and women, and their families, attain housing and learn life skills.
Through the Farmers’ Market, veterans learn about the health benefits of local food — and job opportunities with area restaurants. It’s a win-win-win — for vets, farmers and restaurateurs.
Of course, it helps the entire community — and economy — too.
FVC began 2 months ago, with 6 women. Chef Jennifer Balin — a Westporter who owns Sugar & Olives, just over the Norwalk line — and chef Dan Sabia of Jesup Hall pioneered the program. They shop at the indoor farmers’ market, then bring ingredients to the kitchen at the women’s home. They demonstrate cooking techniques. Then, at dinner, they share recipes, and discuss life skills and employment opportunities. One job may already be in the works.
Chef Dan Sabia of Jesup Hall explains his technique.
More dinners are planned for February. Chefs Geoff Lazlo, Bill Taibeand Matt Storch, along with food blogger Liz Rueven, will participate.
Westport Farmers’ Market executive director Lori Cochran-Dougall is justly proud of her creative programming. But, she admits, Farmers to Veterans to Community is special.
“This puts to work — literally — our values of giving back ot the community, by helping those who have given so much of themselves,” she says.
What a wonderful recipe for success!
(The winter Westport Farmers’ Market runs every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens, 7 Sylvan Lane. For more information click here, or email email@example.com)
Chef Jennifer Balin’s delicious table, at Homes for the Brave.
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.)
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Sustaining 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.
Each 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 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.)
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