Tag Archives: Westport Farmer’s Market

Farmers’ Market Serves Up Top Chef Battle

The Westport Farmers’ Market is 12 years old — and wildly popular.

Every Thursday from May through November throngs fill the Imperial Avenue parking lot, on a hunt for fresh produce, meat and fish, baked goods, even pizza, tacos and dog food.

But the Market always looks to add spice to its spices, herbs and more.

So — even though the Westport Farmers’ Market is a community celebration, not a competition — they’re introducing a Chef of the Market contest.

Starting this Thursday — and running once a month through the fall — 12 well-known names battle it out through an opening round, semifinals and finals. The winner will be, I guess, the chief chef.

The brainchild of board member — and no-slouch-himself chef Bill Taibe — works like this.

On the 3rd Thursday of each month, 3 chefs go head-to-head-to-head.

At 10 a.m., they get $20. They have 45 minutes to shop for ingredients, cook, and present their appetizer-size dish to the judges. PS: Electricity is not allowed.

In keeping with the fun theme, judges are randomly selected from any shopper who wants to participate.

In 2015, chefs prepared a recipe at the Westport Farmers’ Market. This year, they’ll compete against others. (Photo/Oliver Parini)

The first round runs through August. The winner of each group moves on to the semifinals, the 3rd Thursday in September.

Finals are set for “Fork it Over,” the Westport Farmers’ Market annual October fundraiser.

All chefs donate one $50 gift certificate from their restaurant. The winner gets every gift card — so he can enjoy his competitors’ meals yet not pay for them — along with other prizes.

The early chefs — particularly those tomorrow — have it tough. They can’t choose from flavorful snap peas, strawberries or squash. However, Taibe is sure they’ll do imaginative, tasty things with this month’s bounty, like radishes and kale.

Fresh produce is one of the Westport Farmer’s Market’s most popular attractions. Chefs competing in this year’s competition know exactly how to prepare it. But can they shop for it — and finish their dish — in just 45 minutes?

All 12 chefs gathered at the Market last week, to pick their dates out of a hat.

There was already smack talk — including between the chefs at Taibe’s own Whelk, Kawa Ni and Jesup Hall, all of whom are competing. Other Westport chefs represent The Cottage, OKO, Match Lobster Burger and Amis.

There’s chatter on social media too.

Starting Thursday, the rest of us can see where it all leads.

Let the Chef of the Market games begin!

Chef competitors include: May 24, Geoff Lazlo, Ben Freemole, Christian Wilki; (June 21) Matt Storch, Jeff Taibe, Adam Roytman; (July 19), Jonas/Brad, Anthony Kostelis, Anthony Rinaldi; (August 16) Nick Martschenko, Dan Sabia, Carlos Baez.

Food For Thought: Farmers’ Market Helps Veterans, Chefs Grow

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 director@westportfarmersmarket.com)

Chef Jennifer Balin’s delicious table, at Homes for the Brave.

Westport Favorite Is Farmer Of The Year

The Westport Farmers’ Market is proud of its many vendors. They sell honey, ice cream, tamales and pizza, along with the usual (and delicious) fruits, vegetables and meats.

Today they’re particularly proud of one.

Patti Popp has just been named 2017 Farmer of the Year.

That’s not some silly online poll. The honor comes from the Farmers’ Almanac and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Popp is one of 3 outstanding farmers or ranchers throughout the country — and the only woman. All were chosen for their support of the farming tradition; innovation in agriculture; community involvement, and inspiration as an agricultural leader.

Popp grows produce, and raises chickens and pigs, at Sport Hill Farm in Easton. She operates a community-supported agriculture program, and a retail store sellling locally grown and crafted goods.

Patti Popp and friends.

In the summer Sport Hill Farm sponsors a children’s camp. She hosts other events throughout the year, including farm-to-table dinners and workshops.

Popp calls herself an “accidental farmer.” In 2000 she and her husband purchased a home with enough property to grow vegetables and raise chickens.

They learned to farm by trial and error — reading books, and asking questions of other farmers.

Westport Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran-Dougall says, “Not only does Patti grow some of the choicest food in the area, she gives of herself to the community in an unparalleled way.

“We always count on Patti to dig in when we need anything — from offering fresh food, to partnering with local chefs, to volunteering for events that help folks make a connection between the farm and our food system.”

You can see the national Farmer of the Year at the Westport market on Imperial Avenue every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., now through November 9.

Aw, Shoot!

Keep your eye on Josh  Suggs and Samantha Henske.

Thanks to their own keen eyes, both were double winners in the 3rd annual Young Shoots student digital photography contest.

The joint effort of the Westport Arts Center and Westport Farmers’ Market shows off local talent — and the color and vibrancy of local farms.

Over 70 photos were submitted by youngsters ages 8 to 18, from across Fairfield County. Subject matter ranged from rhubarb to honey bees.

Suggs won the age 11-14 competition (judged by photography and food experts) for “Back to Our Roots,” and the Fan Favorite (selected by the public) for “Apple of My Eye.”

Josh Suggs’ “Back to Our Roots.”

Henske picked up 1st place in age 8-10 for “A Bouquet of Lettuce,” and the Fan Favorite prize for “One in a Million.”

Samantha Henske’s Bouquet of Lettuce

The age 15-18 category winner was “Happy Rhubarb” by Lili Dowell. The Fan Favorite was Sarah Maybruck’s “Colorful Beginnings.”

Lili Dowell’s “Happy Rhubarb.”

All were honored last night at Sugar & Olives. First-place winners earned $100, and the co-lead of a photo shoot at The Whelk with chef Bill Taibe.

Second place winners Samantha Sandrew, Olivia Toth and Claire Langdon received $50 each.

Fan Favorites got a 1-year membership to the Arts Center, and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt.

First place winners (from left) Lili Dowell, Samantha Henske and Josh Suggs, with Bill Taibe. (Photo/Adriana Reis)

Party In The Parking Lot Postponed

With Westporters worried about friends and family affected by recent hurricanes — and possible bad weather in the forecast — this Thursday’s Westport Farmers’ Market fundraiser has been postponed.

Party in the Parking Lot — scheduled for this Thursday (September 14) — is now set for Wednesday evening, October 4.

Participating chefs include Bill Taibe, Brian Lewis, Christian Petroni, Christine Cote, Jessica Bengston, Kevin Lalli and Matt Stanczak.

Click here for tickets and more information.

The entrance to the Westport Farmers’ Market, on Imperial Avenue, where the October 4 party takes place.

 

Party In The Parking Lot

Every Thursday from May to November, the Imperial Avenue parking lot turns into the Westport Farmers’ Market. A few dozen vendors sell fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, baked goods and more. There’s music, life, fun.

The other 6 days of the week, the lot just sits there — empty and lifeless.

On the night of September 14 though, the paved-over area will be hopping. The Farmers’ market is sponsoring its 1st-ever “Party in the Parking Lot.”

The event features seasonal cocktails, and chefs from area restaurants serving specialties. There’s music too, and drawings for items including dinners, travel and home goods.

Click here for tickets. For more information, email director@westportfarmersmarket.com.

Or stop by  Imperial Avenue any Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’s the coolest parking lot in town.

The entrance to the Westport Farmers’ Market, on Imperial Avenue.

“Young Shoots” Sprout At Farmers’ Market

I’ve written before about the Westport Farmers’ Market’s “Young Shoots” photo contest.

It’s open to 3 age groups: 8-10, 11-14, 15-18. They can take shots every Thursday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the market in colorful, imaginative ways.

First-place winners receive a $100 cash prize, and the chance to lead a food photo shoot with Bill Taibe (chef/owner of The Whelk, Ka Wa Ni and Jesup Hall). Second-place winners get $50.

In addition, winners have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor).

Those are nice rewards. But the contest also changes lives.

Last year, Lillie Fortino was art coordinator for the Norwalk Housing Authority’s after-school program. She thought the contest would be great for her kids.

Many had never been to a farmers’ market. They were hesitant at first. But they trusted Fortino, and her excitement fed theirs.

They brought a completely fresh eye — as children and photographers — to the bursting-with-goods-and-activity Imperial Avenue lot.

They also experimented with foods they’d never tried, like snap peas and soft cheeses, and bought flowers they’d never seen.

A talented girl named Anastasia Davis won her 11-14 age group.

Anastasia Davis’ winning photo.

Taibe invited Anastasia to Kawa Ni and the Whelk. There, she tried even more foods. Nothing was off limits.

The contest sparked a partnership between the Norwalk Housing Authority and Westport Arts Center. Fortino has a new job — director of education for the WAC — and this year she included work by NHA youngsters in the arts center’s student show. One boy proudly sold a piece there.

Ahead: collaboration between the NHA and the WAC’s artists’ residency program.

Everyone knows the Westport Farmers’ Market vendors grow great food. Who knew the market helps young kids grow too?

Anastasia Davis

Farmers’ Market Photo Contest Draws “Young Shoots”

Two of our town’s most creative institutions — the Westport Farmers’ Market and Westport Arts Center — have teamed up to showcase the creativity of one of our town’s most important assets: our kids.

The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition highlights images taken all summer long at the Farmers’ Market.

It’s a great place for budding (ho ho) photographers to shoot. Every Thursday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the Farmers’ Market pulses with life. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the market in colorful, imaginative ways. All photos must be taken somewhere on the Imperial Avenue premises.

“Towhead Tomatoes” — last year’s Fan Favorite winner, and 2nd place in 15-18 age group. (Photo/Margaret Kraus)

There are 3 age groups: 8-10, 11-14, 15-18. Submissions are due by August 14.

First-place winners in each category receive a $100 cash prize, and the chance to lead a food photo shoot with Bill Taibe (chef/owner of The Whelk, Ka Wa Ni and Jesup Hall). Second-place winners get $50.

Winners will also have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor).

Anastasia Davis won 1st place last year in the 11-14 age group for this shot.

Beginning August 20, the community will have a chance to vote online for their favorite images. “Fan favorites” get a 1-year membership to the Westport Arts Center, and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt.

Click here for photo guidelines and submission info.

“Starstem” by Calista Finkelstein placed 1st last summer in the 8-10 category.

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.”