BURLINGTON - When a college professor like Mark Hamin of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst tells a class one assignment is to look at the past and future growth of the community each student comes from, that assignment may lead to a community getting a much wanted service.
In Burlington, that much-wanted service took the form of the new Burlington Farmers' Market. The market opened July 15 and is to run every Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. through September 2nd. The market takes place on the lawn of the United Church of Christ Congregational, 6 Lexington St., Burlington. There is parking at the church and down the street at Mt. Hope Christian School.
Burlington native and Burlington High School graduate Rachel Dutton, 22, is a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, class of 2012.
This past semester, she took a course in environmental design. Professor Hamin's curriculum for this class included having the students examine their home towns to see how each town was built and try to predict where the town was heading.
Dutton said, "Western Massachusetts has a rich food history. I've been learning a lot about agriculture. I really wanted to bring a big picture of agriculture to Burlington."
Dutton observed that people in Burlington and surrounding towns were getting excited about farmers markets and fresh food. Rachel started getting a feel for how the community might react to a farmers market by discussing it with her family, and the reaction was most positive.
She concluded that Burlington was ready for a farmers market.
As an end-of-the-semester project, Rachel drew up a business plan for a farmers market in Burlington. The plan covered who would be the vendors, the audience or clientele, and to whom she would need to reach out. Rachel also explained part of her vision for the market:
she wanted the market to become a community undertaking and she wanted the foods to come from farmers who used sustainable farming methods.
Dutton's first step in actually starting the market was to talk to other farmers market managers.
She said Fred Yen of the Winchester Farmers Market and Sarah Berquist of the Amherst Farmers Market each provided a lot of help. She also contacted the Burlington Health Agent Marlene Johnson. "I learned her expectations of me regarding food safety and what to look for to make sure vendors were keeping to code."
Next, Dutton did a mass E-mail to potential vendors recommended by other market managers.
Approximately eight to ten vendors were interested, and in the end, Burlington's market had six interested vendors, said Dutton.
Dutton had considered using community space, but shied away from that because of the complications in working with the town about using public space. She looked at private spaces, and settled on the United Church of Christ. One advantage of that location, said Dutton, is that it is accessible by public transportation.
Rachel charged rental fees from the vendors up front: $160 for eight weeks, or $25 per week. She used that money to purchase liability insurance for the market and for the church.
Rachel designed the website for the farmers' market herself. She observed, "I've been learning a lot of new and interesting skills to set up this market."
On the first day of the market, July 15th, Rachel found that the vendors were thrilled with their sales. Just as important, the vendors said "people were friendly and appreciative."
On the first day, the vendors were Farmer Dave's from Dracut and Lanni Orchards from
Lunenburg who were selling fresh fruits and vegetables. Big Sky Bakery from Watertown brought breads and other baked goods. Fine Chokolader from Burlington was selling handmade chocolates, marshmallows, and trail mix. Foxboro Cheese from Foxboro brought their handcrafted cheese, plus meats, and fresh eggs from the farm.
Dutton had an assistant market manager the first week, Ben Masi, 24, also a U. Mass graduate who was living in Winchester for the early part of the summer. Dutton and Masi brainstormed on what had to be done before and during the first market day. On the market day, Masi helped set up the manager's tent, made two banners, and ran the market managers table with Burlington resident and volunteer Shirley Fong. Dutton's mother and Burlington resident, Catherine Dutton also helped run the market.
Commenting some more on the market's first day, Dutton said, "I was thrilled that so many people came and it became a social event. Family and friends were coming together and people were asking farmers what their farms were like." Dutton also observed that "Some people met friends they had not seen for a long time and were able to catch up. I've heard lots of comments about how social the event was."
Right now, the market is small and manageable, said Dutton. But her business plan covered three years, picturing how the market might change over three years. The business plan called for Dutton to start it, but called for a community team to take over the running of the market.
Dutton said she is interviewing volunteers for that team now. That team will develop its own vision of where to take the market in the community, said Dutton.
For more information on the Burlington Farmers' Market, check the market's website at www.burlingtonfarmersmarket.weebly.com. People can also E-mail Market Manager Rachel Dutton at email@example.com.