March Member Spotlight: Cooperstown Farmers’ Market

Our March Member Spotlight is the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market located in Cooperstown, NY. The Market is a program of Otsego 2000, a non-profit, “founded in 1981 to protect the environmental, agricultural, scenic, cultural and historic resources of the Otsego Lake region and northern Otsego County”. Tom Lewis, FaHN VISTA, spoke with Shannon Kirch, Agricultural Programs Manager at Otsego 2000 and also the Market Manager, to learn more about the farmers’ market.

History of the market:

Shannon joined the staff of Otsego 2000 late last year but the history of the farmers’ market dates back to 1991 when they decided to open the first indoor market in Otsego County. The market’s philosophy is to, “encourage agricultural private enterprise that exists in a mutually beneficial relationship with downtown merchants.” Shannon stated that, “the market was started as a community building event and to bring people back to Main Street, but also to provide an outlet for the smaller farms and businesses in the area”. She said that, “the market has steadily grown and we are now up to a roster of 50 vendors every year, and we fit as many of them in as we can every week”.

What’s available at the market:

The market is open on Saturdays, January through April from 10am – 2pm, May through August from 8am – 2pm, and September through December from 9am – 2pm. They also have a Tuesday Market that runs in July and August from 12pm – 5pm. In order to get a spot at the market all vendors need to be located within 50 miles. Shannon mentioned how the market “tries to stay focused on agricultural products, agriculture vendors get priority, so it’s a lot of produce and a lot of local meat. Beyond the farmers, there’s a lot of food processor vendors that bring in baked goods, jellies, jams, salsas, and canned goods. In addition to those, in any other room we have available we get a lot of crafters and specialty artisans that do everything from hand knit scarfs, to puppets, and handbags.”

A few of the vendors at the market also offer CSA’s for consumers to purchase and pick up weekly. Shannon said that, “we try to cross promote their CSA’s and our Tuesday market initially started as a CSA pickup, so the vendors offering CSA’s didn’t have to bring their CSA boxes on top of all their other stuff for the Saturday market”. From there the Tuesday market evolved into a smaller version of their Saturday market.

On events that the market holds:

The market hosts live music May through December, but the market also does many other events throughout the year with Shannon commenting that, “we try to have some special events every month or so, in March we are going to do a wonderful world of wool day to celebrate local fibers, a lot of people are focused on local eating and farming, but not a lot of people think about how the clothes they wear can be either local or non-local. We are going to do zucchini races in August, we will have a Halloween warming tent in October, for when the kids are trick or treating. We try to have events that are relevant with the seasons and what’s going on at the market throughout the year.”

The importance of educating consumers on the benefits of buying local:

In Shannon’s role as the Agricultural Programs Manager at Otsego 2000 she spends a lot of time advocating for the importance of buying local agriculture. It’s her hope that she’ll be able to further connect the market with the broader community and she said, “I’d like to move towards getting the market to partner with local schools, and the hospital because I believe local and sustainable agriculture leads into and is a big part of a healthy community.” She added that, “connecting agricultural programs with health and wellness is a big goal of mine. Physically the market is about as big as it can get with the building that we are in, and the town we are in only has so many residents year round. Really the next place for growth is customer education and awareness. I think in the past few years farmers’ markets have become a novelty and it’s a fad to go to the farmers’ market on the weekend. I think really educating our customers and our community about the benefits of the type of agriculture we are trying to promote and how that connects to their lives is really key, including making people realize the connection between local fresh foods and how it impacts their health.”

On becoming a member with The Food & Health Network:

Shannon said that after receiving information about FaHN she decided to learn more and that, “after reading through everything that the Food & Health Network does, I thought it was something that the farmers’ market should be a part of, because it’s about the deeper connection between the farmers’ market and the community. It goes hand in hand if you want to eat healthy you need to be buying food from a specific type of farmer and those are the ones we are trying to promote here”. Once Shannon met with Erin Summerlee, Director of the Food & Health Network, she said, “it became clear to me that there was a much bigger connection to be made, there is a lot of talk about school lunches and making them healthier, but I don’t think that the connection between the agriculture side of it has been fully established, especially in our region.” She added, “It was an obvious choice to join FaHN because there’s a lot of potential to take the healthy eating, and the health of the community and connect it to the farmers’ market and the production side of the local food system”.