2018-11-30 / Front Page

Cape farmer takes lead for area market

By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – While dropping temperatures may preclude an outdoor farmers market, starting Dec. 1 the Portland Farmers Market will head indoors to bring fresh produce to residents through the cold winter months.

The Portland Farmers Market takes place at Deering Oaks in summer, but between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. every Saturday morning from Dec. 1 to April 20, the market finds a home at the former Maine Girls Academy in the 12,000-square-foot gymnasium for the second year in a row. The winter portion of the farmers market was added in 2011. The market itself has been around for 250 years. The team of market organizers worked diligently to ensure it is a spacious, welcoming community event.

Mary Ellen Chadd of Green Spark Farm in Cape Elizabeth is a coordinator for the event, and her family farm, which features greens grown in an unheated outdoor greenhouse, will be at the market all through the season.

“We really want this to be a place that the community can come and feel comfortable,” Chadd said. “During the winter, it can be hard to find an activity to share with your kids. This is a place to have a beautiful experience with your family.”

Chadd is enthusiastic that the centralized location on Stevens Avenue will encourage people to stop by, noting that walkability was an appealing trait when selecting a location as well as an abundance of parking at the location – 125 available parking spots for patrons. Chadd was also glad the gymnasium is close to the bus line, allowing those who wish to commute to the market from South Portland an affordable and convenient way to travel.

The Portland Farmers Market will kick off its winter season with an opening day celebration on Dec. 1, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Festivities will include coffee, baked goods, activities for children and a silent auction to benefit the market’s Low Income Access Program.

The program aims to make locally grown and sourced foods available to everyone. The market accepts both EBT and SNAP payments, allowing those in need of assistance to use the funds for farm-fresh fruits and vegetables.

According to Jaime Berhanu, member of the market’s SNAP committee, the market works in correlation with the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets, a statewide organization that works to ensure that Maine-grown food can be enjoyed by all.

The Maine Federation of Farmers Markets has a nutritional incentive program that offers Harvest Bucks, which awards those using their EBT cards with a “Harvest Buck” for every dollar spent at the market. During the opening day celebration, Harvest Bucks will double in value, allowing for two dollars for every one spent. For example, a patron can spend $10 from EBT and receive $30 in produce from the market.

Unlike other markets that use a paper system for the exchange of Harvest Bucks, the Portland Farmers Market uses wooden coins in denominations of $1 and $5. Patrons can trade cash or swipe their credit, debit or EBT cards and receive the wooden coins in exchange. The coins also never expire, so those who often frequent the market can save the coins to be used at the next market they attend.

“Some people just find them easier to deal with because you don’t have to wait for someone to swipe your care and wait for the amount to be approved. The EBT machines are also fairly costly to purchase and operate, so the wooden tokens make it easier for other farms to accept those forms of assistance,” Chadd said.

The silent auction portion of the opening day ceremony will raise funds for the SNAP program, allowing it to expand to further its impact within the market. While the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets aids in the acquisition of grants and funds for the markets, Portland Farmers Market remains responsible to do fundraising of its own.

The silent auction is full of items that range from quirky to practical to indulgent. To choose from are gift certificates to local restaurants, yoga classes and a gallon of maple syrup. Of the more interesting items up for bid is yearlong supply of carrots.

“We have a really great selection of items up for auction. We’re lucky to have a lot of items that would be great Christmas presents, so visitors have an opportunity to do some holiday shopping while also supporting local farmers,” Berhanu said.

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