Tag Archives: Westport Farmer’s Market

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.”

Check Out This New Library “Seeding”

Of course, you can check out books at the Westport Library.

And — though purists once shuddered at the thought — you can also borrow CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays.

In fact — just like Alice’s Restaurant — you can get almost anything you want at our library.

Including seeds.

Two years ago, the Westport Library began offering organic seeds. Folks loved it.

Seeds are stored in an old Westport Library card catalog, near the reference section.

Now, the Westport Farmers’ Market has donated over 75 packets of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds to the Westport Grows Seed Exchange and Library. (“Borrowers” are encouraged to donate back to the program.)

The heirloom seeds — saved for generations by local farmers and gardeners — add to a collection that already included organic seeds from noted growers like High Mowing and Baker’s Creek.

The donation comes after the Farmers’ Market launched its own seed-saving program in February. The response was overwhelming. With thousands of seeds left, it was an easy decision to give them to the library — the market’s neighbor, across the Imperial Avenue footbridge.

Gardeners, farmers, homesteaders, chefs — and everyone else — is invited to stop by the library.

Browse a catalog at the entrance to the reference section.

Then “check out” — literally — a stunning variety of open-pollinated, heirloom or organic species of fruit, vegetables and flowers.

(For more information click here, or email director@westportfarmersmarket.com)

 

Tavern On Main: Yesterday On “Today”

If you watch the “Today” show, you may know that Craig Melvin has made a commitment to a vegetarian, alcohol-free diet this year.

You may also have seen yesterday’s segment on his “healthy reboot.” Filmed at Tavern on Main, it showcased the restaurant’s emphasis on incorporating healthy, seasonal produce in its menu. The Westport Farmers’ Market, for example, is a frequent source of food.

Tavern on Main

Melvin and his wife, ESPN’s Lindsay Czarnink, are frequent Tavern guests. Click here to see the segment.

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’ Photos Fan Favorites

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.

The remarkable shots — from every angle imaginable — pulse with life. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the Thursday market in colorful, imaginative ways.

If you like what you see (and you will) you can vote for your favorite. There are 3 age groups: 8-11, 12-14, 15-18. But hurry: voting closes at midnight tomorrow, Tuesday, August 24.

Winners will have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor), and will receive a membership to the Arts Center. Really though, virtually every image is a winner.

Click here for the photos, and to vote. Warning: Don’t do it on an empty stomach.

One of the many entries in the Westport Farmers' Market photo contest.

One of the many entries in the Westport Farmers’ Market photo contest.

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.”

Nothin’ But…

In 2008, Jerri Graham was not happy with snack bars. The ones on the market lacked the taste, texture and ingredients she wanted to eat — or feed her family.

So the Westport woman created her own. Her “Nothin’ But” bars were a hit, at local cafes, farmers’ markets and gyms. Yet as a solo entrepreneur, she could not take advantage of their surging popularity.

Around that time, Steve Laitmon tried a bar at Doc’s — the old Saugatuck coffee shop. Impressed he stepped into the parking lot, found Graham’s number and called her.

An attorney who also owns the Calendar Group — a Westport-based staffing firm for high net worth individuals and families — Laitmon asked where Nothin’ But was sold besides Doc’s. She was in the farmers’ market, a couple of gyms and cafes, and Arogya.

Jerri Graham and Steve Laitmon.

Jerri Graham and Steve Laitmon.

Laitmon went door-to-door — literally — expanding the market. His 1st target: the Hamptons. He was successful — and so were Graham’s bars.

A few years later, Nothin’ But is now sold in a couple of thousand outlets. Costco and Whole Foods carry them, in 3 regions each. Hudson News sells them nationally. In March, they’ll be at 7/Eleven.

Last year, the company grew by 300%. Sales are in the low 7 figures.

Laitmon did it by old-fashioned pavement pounding. He also brought in a vice president of sales, a sales assistant and an operations guy. That’s it, though. Nothin’ But is nothin’ but them.

Success comes from the product itself, Laitmon says. “We’re taste-driven, with clean ingredients. Nothing artificial. No garbage.”

Right now there are 4 granola bar flavors, and 4 types of cookies. The Nothin’ But brand has plenty of potential, Laitmon notes. But they’re solidifying their current offerings, before expanding.

Nothin' But

Speaking of expansion: Nothin’ But’s offices just moved from Westport to Stratford. The company needed a loading dock — and that’s hard to find here.

Doc’s — where Laitmon made that 1st phone call to Graham — is no longer around. But Nothin’ But bars are.

Thanks to that Westport connection, they’re more popular than ever. And all over the country.

Taters For The Taking

Alert and very kind “06880” reader Christy Colasurdo writes:

Easton farmer Patti Popp just posted on Facebook that due to this crazy warm weather and extended growing season, she has more than 50 crates of organic potatoes — and no one to take them off her hands.

She’s reached out to restaurants, food pantries and families in need, but because this is such a hectic time of year, it’s tough moving these organic spuds. She’s bummed because they were grown with love and care.

I’ve known Patti a long time. She’s a fixture on the local green foods scene, and is at the Westport Farmers’ Market every week. I’m sure some local organization would love to be the recipient of such a terrific haul.

So: If anyone knows anyone — a family in need, or organization — that can use these holiday taters, Patti will donate them. Plus butternut squash and cabbage. Click “Comments” below — or email ccasama@optonline.net.

Loading potatoes. Can you help "unload" them?

Loading crates of potatoes. Can you help “unload” them?