Regional competition and financial constraints bring changes to planning of New Canaan's farmers' market
Published 4:09 pm, Thursday, April 15, 2010
With the opening of the New Canaan Farmers' Market four weeks away, the Board of Selectmen discussed changes to the seasonal Saturday tradition to help spurt foot traffic and support the economically pressed local agricultural community that anchors the weekly event.
The board unanimously approved the addition of booths for New Canaan artisans and non-profits at the market this year. The Selectmen also approved a proposal for a "chef celebration" at the market in July and August.
Alexis Gazy, market master of the New Canaan Farmers' Market, described the "chef celebration" as an opportunity for New Canaan chefs and caterers to teach produce shoppers how to cook healthy dishes, distribute food samples and promote themselves.
Gazy proposed these fresh additions to the event's core design of farm-stand clusters in an effort to draw more market-goers and keep them perusing produce and meandering through downtown New Canaan longer.
Gazy told the board that the vendors who anchor the market travel to New Canaan from farms north of Danbury. She expressed concern that financial pressures like the costs of traveling and vending in New Canaan might result in major booths pulling out. Gazy said she fears the entire event may fold.
"The farmers have been hit really hard with the tomato blight, as everyone knows -- especially for the organic farmers, it has been an economic disaster," said Gazy.
She added, "I've had farmers tell me they just can't send me a check, and I've been subsidizing the market."
Gazy presented plan to ease the financial pressures of the market coordinators and the farmers who vend there by instituting a sponsorship program for New Canaan businesses. Gazy proposed that the market give local businesses who want to lure Saturday market-goers to their storefronts the opportunity to purchase a self-promotional 3-square-foot sign to be displayed at the market.
"It has to be circular: local businesses helping local farmers helping local communities, and hopefully the customers will be appreciative," she said.
Gazy said sponsorship money would fund market expenses including advertising, hiring a traffic director and fees to the town health department.
"[The market] is in huge demand," Gazy said. "But I'm afraid that if the funding can't be gotten by sponsorships, there are other markets out there that are cheaper and not as far away for the farmers."
Selectman Rob Mallozzi expressed cautionary concern with the possibility of over-developing the market.
"You're walking a fine line here between a real commercial enterprise and a farmers' market and I'm quite concerned about it. ... This is getting a little big here in my opinion," he said.
Gazy responded that local farmers' markets are competitive in Fairfield County. She said there are about five markets within a 30-minute drive of New Canaan on a Saturday in summer.
"The market needs to be self-supporting to some degree, and I'm not talking about putting up signs for 100 sponsors ... I'm talking about New Canaan businesses that are downtown that could use the extra exposure on a low-cost basis, because that's what the farmers' market is all about; it's about bringing more customers to the town to create the foot traffic in town to increase business to the majority of the merchants in town," Gazy said.
She added, "Some towns and cities have a payroll for their markets and have funding for the market, like Darien ... I'm not asking for additional funds from the town and taxpayers; I would like an opportunity for businesses who have come to me [to promote themselves and help fund the market]."
The selectmen tabled the approval of market sponsorships to the April 27 board meeting. First Selectman Jeb Walker said the board will also discuss at the meeting moving the market from its historic location near the New Canaan Library to the parking lot behind Town Hall in order to better encourage market-goers to visit downtown businesses.
"If you bring the farmers' market [downtown], I assure you every merchant will support it because we're losing too much traffic," said Diane Roth, owner of L'Armoire on Park Street. "It just makes sense."
The New Canaan Farmers' Market is scheduled to begin this season on Saturday, May 15.