By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
Every Saturday at 9 a.m., a bell rings to open the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, a tradition for 38 years.
Shoppers, families and visitors have two more opportunities to visit the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at its winter location in the Saratoga Spa State Park. Then, on Saturday, May 7, the market officially inaugurates its outdoor season at High Rock Park. The grand opening comes as the market celebrates its past and looks to the future with an even bigger vision of sustaining connections between farmers, food lovers, local businesses, and the Saratoga community.
“The Saratoga Farmers’ Market was founded in 1978 and so much has changed between then and now – from business ethics to how food is grown,” said market administrator Julia Howard. “The market itself is ever-changing as we progress into a time of increased competition and environmental, social, and technological change.”
Howard sees community groups and volunteers as key to helping the Saratoga Farmers’ Market prosper. The volunteer-run Friends of the Market, formed in 2011, has made welcoming new and returning customers and supporting vendors with everything from restroom breaks to coffee runs its charge. The Friends also operate a free Veggie Valet service, which lets shoppers leave purchases at its tent for pickup later as well as personalized transport to their vehicles.
This year, the Friends are creating weekly food facts, sharing information about the Farmers’ Market with parenting and environmental groups, and helping to run such market activities as the Spring Festival two weeks ago. Look for the singing carrot on May 7 and the Veggie Valet wagons for examples of what the Friends do.
Local farmers formed the Saratoga market with a mission of bringing fresh, farm-raised and locally produced items to residents at an affordable price. They grew not only food but also relationships centered on community support for agriculture in the four-county region from which the market’s fresh goods are grown.
Today, competition from other markets and healthy grocers has made the Saratoga Farmers’ Market’s emphasis on local even more vital. For these reasons, the market operates on Wednesdays from 3-6 p.m. from May through the end of the October as well as Saturdays. While the Saturday market features 59 vendors compared with the Wednesday market’s 24, both markets make fresh food readily available to customers.
Howard compared the experience of shopping at the market to that of a grocery store. “The market is not merely a place to shop,” she said. “It’s a place to get to know local farmers and producers, to know where your food comes from.”
“The atmosphere is lively and festive, the food is freshly harvested, baked, or produced,” she added. “Can it get any better than that?”
The market opens at High Rock Park from 3-6 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 7.
What’s new this summer:
• Market layout. Vendor stalls will be set up in a single long circle, making it easier for shoppers and others to see who’s selling what where.
• Power of Produce Club. Children will be invited to participate in this new Wednesday activity aimed at learning how to identify, prepare, taste, and learn about locally grown fruits and vegetables through hands on activities, games, and conversations with farmers. Children who participate will receive a POP Buck worth $2 to be spent on the fruit of vegetable of their choice at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market.
• Debit/credit card use. In addition to token sales, the Saratoga Farmers’ Market Association is working on a system that will allow customers to make purchases directly from vendors via debit or credit cards. Several vendors already are offering this service.