MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Farmers’ Market (MFM) will serve up its 43rd season beginning Saturday, May 6, at a brand new location with a growing crop of vendors offering a diverse menu of fresh veggies, cheeses, fruit, prepared foods and a whole lot more.
The new location is the Middlebury Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7823 headquarters at 530 Exchange St., which offers a generous parking area on which vendors will set up their respective booths.
The market most recently called the Marble Works its home, but the upcoming replacement of the two downtown rail bridges — and the temporary parking/traffic challenges that will come with it — drove the need for MFM leaders to find a new home base for the series of Wednesday and Saturday showcases of unctuous edibles and creative crafts.
Market organizers checked out more than a dozen potential new MFM sites, measuring them against some key criteria. They wanted the site to have at least 15,000 square feet (excluding parking), and be highly visible, have good drainage, a restroom, and be as close to the downtown as possible in order to make it an easy destination for walkers and those taking the Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) bus.
The VFW site fit the bill on virtually all counts, according to Hannah Sessions, a longtime MFM board member and co-owner of Blue Ledge Farm in Leicester. And she noted Middlebury officials have been discussing installation of a sidewalk or “shared use path” to serve the Exchange Street area. This new amenity would make the MFM even more convenient for bikers, pedestrians and joggers.
“They were so welcoming to us,” Sessions said of the Exchange Street neighborhood in general and he VFW in particular. “There were several locations on Exchange Street that were vying (to host) the market.”
She called the VFW location “as close to the center of town as we could possibly be.”
Another factor that made the VFW the consensus pick: The organization will allow the market to be held inside its building during the often frigid months of November and December. The 2017 season of MFM will run through Dec. 23.
“It’s a plus that we will be able to have the winter market at the same location,” Sessions said.
The VFW parking area will provide ample hard surface for shoppers and the average of 38 vendors who have been selling at the market in recent years, according to Sessions. There’s also a grassy area bordering the lot on which visitors will be able to picnic and/or recreate during Wednesday and Saturday market hours (9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). Sessions promised more music, games and other activities for MFM customers.
“We want to make it like a festival,” she said, adding the grand opening for MFM will be May 27, during Memorial Day weekend.
Sessions noted ACTR is definitely on board with this year’s farmers’ market. She said ACTR’s in-town shuttle will make stops, upon request, at the VFW during market hours on Wednesdays and Saturdays. And ACTR might designate a regular MFM stop if enough people request it, according to Sessions.
Bub Crosby is quartermaster for the Middlebury VFW. He and his colleagues are pleased to land the farmers’ market at a regular offering. The VFW will have a year-to-year arrangement with market organizers, according to Crosby.
“It’s a good community service,” Crosby said of the market. “We’re looking forward to hosting them.”
The new relationship with the farmers’ market is further evidence of a renaissance for the Middlebury VFW, which only three years ago was on the verge of putting its Exchange Street property on the market, with leaders citing budget challenges and dwindling membership.
But Post 7823 is now on firm footing, thanks to an infusion of new energy, a growing membership and a tremendous uptick in bookings for its events hall, according to Crosby. The VFW is now up to 195 members, and the events hall is currently booked for every Saturday into September, he said.
“We’ve gone to more progressive marketing and promotions,” Crosby said.
For more information on the Middlebury Farmers’ Market, log on to middleburyfarmersmarket.org, or check them out on Facebook.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]