Tag Archives: Lori Cochran

Unsung Hero #142

Alert, well-fed and grateful “06880” reader Pippa Bell Ader writes:

Lori Cochran, Westport Farmers Market‘s executive director, isn’t sitting behind a desk during the coronavirus crisis, shuffling papers.

Lori works hard, 60 to 70 hours a week, ensuring that Westporters — and residents of many other towns — have access to organic, locally grown food.

In normal times Lori would be taking a much deserved break from coordinating the Winter Farmers’ Market at Gilbertie’s Garden Center, before the summer market opens in May.

Lori Cochran

Not that Lori ever really rests. This is the time she normally regroups with summer vendors, making sure they comply with all health and safety regulations, understand the nuances of the market, and are ready for the vibrant Thursdays, from May to November.

But this year is different. Lori recognized early on that — given mayhem and shortages in supermarkets — there would be a greater than usual demand for locally grown produce.

She contacted farmers and food vendors; identified those with produce to sell right now; set up a method to purchase and pay for items in advance so that no money or credit cards touch hands; educated herself about best practices to minimize chances of spreading COVID-19, and developed a scheduling method to ensure that no more than 8 shoppers are at the market at the same time — and never closer than 10 feet.

And she did it all in less than 3 weeks.

Now in its second week, you’d think the current system at the Westport Farmers Market had been set up forever. Just click on the website before 4 p.m. Tuesday. Choose and pay for the items you want to purchase, then pick an available time to get your produce.

On Thursday, head to Gilbertie’s on Sylvan Road South at the allotted time; wear a mask and gloves.

Don’t mess with Lori. If you’re supposed to be at the market between 12:10 and 12:20, be there then!

A little rain — and a lot of coronavirus — doesn’t dampen Lori Cochran’s enthusiasm for the Farmers’ Market.

Parking is a breeze. Follow the signs to the first “waiting” station. When you reach the front of the line you are asked your name, and who you purchased from. Vendors place your prepaid order on the table. Pick up your food, then leave via a different route — still minimizing contact.

None of this happened by chance. Every detail, down to the meaningful statements posted at each station, was carefully thought out by Lori.

The Farmers’ Market’s many customers and vendors thank Lori for all of the work she put into this system of food purchasing.

We all wish for the day that this is no longer necessary. But until then, know that your local, organic produce from the Westport Farmers Market is brought to you in the safest possible manner.

Thank you, Lori!

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Farmers’ Market Vendors Grow Food — And Businesses

Westport Farmers’ Market asks a lot of its vendors. In return for space at the Imperial Avenue lot every Thursday from May to November, the nearly 3 dozen sellers of fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, coffee, meat and more must post about the market every week on social media; adhere to certain sign regulations, and participate in the market’s community service programs.

So, director Lori Cochran wondered last year, what was the Farmers’ Market doing to help those vendors?

Looking around, the energetic, forward-thinking director realized that while some businesses like Nothin’ But had shot to the top — thanks to solid financing and a strong business model, the maker of granola bars and cookies now sells in airports and to Whole Foods — others just moseyed along.

“They’re beautiful at creating what they do,” Lori says. “But they don’t have the time or the expertise to really grow.”

Westport Farmers' Market vendors are great at what they do. Director Lori Cochran wants to help them expand.

Westport Farmers’ Market vendors are great at what they do. Director Lori Cochran wants to help them expand.

Lori has a soft spot for mom-and-pop companies. “Our country was founded on them. And they’re still crucial.”

This year, Westport Farmers’ Market rolled out a 3-pronged educational program. Sessions are held at Sugar & Olives, the very cool restaurant/bar/ cooking school/event space just over the Norwalk line.

Sessions last 2-3 hours, and include general information followed by private, 1-on-1 meetings. Of course, they’re free.

Fairfield County Bank offered a session on finance. Topics included loans and micro-financing. It was so successful, a follow-up focusing on taxes is planned for fall.

An insurance broker will talk about changes in that industry, while next month the Cohen and Wolf law firm discusses ideas like whether a vendor should become an LLC.

September brings a session on social media, courtesy of CT Bites’ Stephanie Webster.

The Westport Farmers' Market is held every Thursday (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) at the Imperial Avenue commuter parking lot.

The Westport Farmers’ Market is held every Thursday (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) at the Imperial Avenue commuter parking lot.

All presentations are pro bono. “These people are great,” Lori says. “They come in as educators, not salesmen. They understand our mission: helping the community. And the community includes our vendors, not just our shoppers.”

She has watched with joy as the Farmers’ Market businesses learn about — well, business.

“They’re talking to each other, and sharing ideas,” she says. “Our vendors are forming a real community.

“This is such a simple program. But it’s actually accomplishing a lot.”

Farmers’ Market Needs Us!

It’s National Farmers’ Market Week (!).  So here’s your chance to vote for the Westport Farmers’ Market as the best in the area.

I usually don’t promote contests of this kind. But if we win — we’re currently 2nd, behind Black Rock but ahead of Norwalk/Rowayton, Old Greenwich and Ridgefield — our fantastic farmers (and bakers, meat purveyors, honey sellers, etc.) earn an important prize: They won’t have to pay their usual 4% fee on sales for one week.

Click here to vote for what we all know is the greatest farmers’ market around.

In other Westport Farmers’ Market news, members of the Staples High School boys soccer team were on hand today, shopping for goods.

Chef Luke Lampanelli (5th from left) joined Staples soccer players Chris Andrews, Max Hammer, Tyler Wright, Noah Schwaeber, Daniel Brill and Aidan Wisher, plus Westport Farmers' Market director Lori Cochran. Luke and the athletes are shopping for, and preparing, a meal for the Gillespie Center.

Chef Luke Lamparelli (5th from left) joins Staples soccer players Chris Andrews, Max Hammer, Tyler Wright, Noah Schwaeber, Daniel Brill and Aidan Wisher, plus Westport Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran. Luke and the athletes are shopping for, and preparing, a meal for the Gillespie Center. (Missing: Andres Marmelo)

Community service is an important component of the boys soccer program, and the athletes were getting ready to cook a meal for the Gillespie Center.

Chef Luke Lamparelli is also volunteering his time and expertise. He’ll cook with the Wreckers tomorrow. That evening, they’ll serve fajitas, pasta, salad and dessert at Westport’s shelter.

Funds come from a previous effort this summer. Staples soccer players helped shoppers carry bags to cars, in exchange for voluntary contributions.

It’s a great team effort — just like the team voting effort that will make the Westport Farmers’ Market #1!

Farmers Market

A Very Humane Story

The Westport Humane Society has taken some hits lately — right here on “06880.”

So it’s nice to hear this story from alert reader Lori Cochran, director of the Westport Farmers’ Market.

Lori also volunteers at the Humane Society.  Staff members there know the Market collects food for the Bridgeport Rescue Mission and Westport Gillespie Center.

Last week, a Humane Society staffer named Mindy pointed out the Humane Society’s 2 raised beds, used to grow vegetables and herbs to feed rabbits.

Mindy wondered if the Humane Society could harvest them for donation to the Bridgeport Rescue Mission at the Thursday Farmers’ Market.

Could they?  Of course!

“How cool, right?” Lori writes.

“At a time when every non-profit is looking inward at how they will survive, the Humane Society thought about how it can help others.  To me, that is the definition of community.”

And, Lori notes, there are no rabbits at the shelter now.  So no bunnies were harmed in the making of this donation.