2018-09-06 / News

Bountiful season for vendors during inagural downtown farmers market

BY RYAN GIBBS


Julie Grosso, left, browses portraits of farm animals painted by Walcott Avenue’s Alex Kent at the recreation center Monday. Along with selling her paintings, Kent, right, has co-organized the farmers market since 2016. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Julie Grosso, left, browses portraits of farm animals painted by Walcott Avenue’s Alex Kent at the recreation center Monday. Along with selling her paintings, Kent, right, has co-organized the farmers market since 2016. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Following five fruitful seasons along the West Passage of Narragansett Bay, farmers are reaping the rewards of their inaugural summer with waterfront views of the channel on the opposite side of the island.

The farmers market wrapped up its sixth season — the first at the recreation center — in traditional Labor Day fashion. During the finale, vendors praised the downtown location for attracting an uptick in visitors compared to the Fort Getty pavilion. Walcott Avenue’s Alex Kent, a co-organizer, credits the casual foot traffic at East Ferry for the bountiful season.

“At Fort Getty, you had to know it was there,” she said. “Then you had to make the effort to go.”

Setting up shop at the recreation center, however, diversified that customer base, attracting sailors from the harbor, for example. Moreover, the market’s Fort Getty customers remained loyal.

“They have followed us here,” Kent said. “The vast majority said they prefer this location.”

At the new site, vendors are split between the outdoor steps and the indoor lobby, although the gymnasium was used once to shelter vendors during a rainstorm.

At her booth, Kent said business was steady during 13 weeks of showcasing her acrylic paintings, tote bags and portraits of farm animals. Many of her colleagues agreed, including Narragansett Avenue ceramicist Jillian Barber. A fixture since the market’s inception in 2013, she offers her awardwinning clay creations alongside second-hand Hawaiian shirts.

“I’m very comfortable here,” Barber said. “Slightly more people come to this. It’s very easy to unload, come in the back door and set up. I’m not worried about the wind blowing something over.”

Jan Goodland-Metz, Kent’s co-organizer since 2016, sold her pottery and organic vegetables. The foot traffic, she said, resulted in faces unfamiliar to Fort Getty.

“We have a lot of new customers,” she said. “It’s worked out fine.”

Aside from her table, Goodland- Metz arranged for Provencal Bakery to sell its bread at the market. Every week, she would collect the bread from the Middletown store and arrange for a vendor to man the booth. It was worth it, she said, because Provencal’s inventory consistently sold out.

Another vendor from Middle- town was Garman Farms, which made its Jamestown debut at the Aug. 14 market. Co-founders Jim and Michelle Garman sold heirloom tomatoes and honey that was harvested from the farm’s bees. Before arriving on Conanicus Avenue four weeks ago, the farm sold its products directly to Aquidneck Island retailers. They enjoyed the intimacy of dealing with customers on a face-to-face basis.

“People are really friendly and knowledgeable about produce,” Jim Garman said. “It’s a nice crowd.”

At the Verde flower booth, Wickford resident Gabriella Andreozzi was another new face this summer. At her table, she sold succulents and bouquets of hand-picked flowers that the small business grows at a farm on East Shore Road.

Alongside her, Jamestowner Ernie Savastano hawked his Vin Oliva products. Although he participates at four other farmers markets, Savastano is partial to the Narragansett Bay vantage point only found in his hometown.

“The view is great,” he said.

Along with fig vinegar, Savastano’s best-seller this season was basil oil, which is made with an “argumato” process by crushing basil alongside the olives.

The finale also featured Lemons Aid, a Portsmouth lemonade company founded by the mother-son team of Laura and Jackson Reaper. A fixture at the local market, the company’s quirky flavor combinations have been popular with customers since 2013.

Laura Reaper said their bestselling flavor this year was “Just Trust Me,” which combines hand-squeezed lemonade with vanilla, rosemary and mint.

“It’s so unique that people are inclined to give it a try,” she said.

While lemonade, olive oil and fresh greens are the main attractions, live music added to the ambiance this season. Playing from a central spot in the middle of the landing, the South County folk group Farm Dog performed during the culmination.

Along with providing entertainment to regular customers, Kent said the live music was a major factor in attracting foot traffic. Music can be heard by pedestrians walking along the waterfront across the street, something that was not possible at Fort Getty, which boasts a half-mile entrance road.

“The music is key,” she said. “We have different musicians and it really draws people. One day, we didn’t have the music and it seemed so quiet. It creates a festive mood.”

Having the farmers market in the commercial district also had a spillover effect. For example, Grapes & Gourmet employee Amelia Wilson said visitors to the rec center would leak into her liquor store.

“The parking lot is full and you see people going there all afternoon,” she said. “There’s definitely an increase in traffic, for sure.”

Wilson’s brother Will, who owns Grapes & Gourmet, co-founded the market in 2013 with Leah Rosin- Pritchard and Heidi Doyle. While he is no longer involved with the operation, the “Wallace the Brave” comic strip author designs promotional posters for the market.

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