It’s no secret that Westerly comes alive in new ways during the summer – the warm weather draws us out of our homes and brings friends and family from out of town to enjoy the beach, the park, and the downtown scene. One of the most delicious seasonal highlights takes place just around the river bend, and it’s known as the Westerly-Pawcatuck Farmers Market.
The market, operated and sponsored by the Westerly Land Trust, is entering its 13th season, having first opened in 2007 with only four or five vendors. Every year since has seen growth and expansion, but Meg Lee, Westerly Land Trust’s Conservation Programs Manager, says this year’s market will provide more than double last year’s offerings, from vendors to entertainment to programs, and feels this year will be a turning point for the endeavor.
Westerly Land Trust staff partner with a dedicated team of volunteers who form the Farmers Market Committee to start planning four to six months in advance of opening weekend. The process involves a reevaluation of the market’s successes and challenges from the year prior, brainstorming new things to add to the experience or improve upon, taking into consideration feedback from visitors, and then diving into the paperwork and heavy lifting required to make the dream a reality.
Each year, applications must be mailed out to returning and prospective vendors, and the Land Trust staff and the committee take on the role of publicizing and marketing as well, whether that’s running newspaper ads, putting up banners, posting on social media, or placing those picket signs around town. They’re also responsible for being present each week and keeping the market running smoothly, ensuring that everyone, from vendors to visitors, are happy.
A labor of love, Meg explains that the market is for everyone in the community, whether they’re permanent residents or just there for the weekend. “We’ve worked really diligently to expand the market and we’re so excited for people to come and see it and for it to become more of a community event that everyone looks forward to each week. It’s so nice for people to be able to stop by and get their groceries, but it’s also great for it to be a gathering space.”
Farmers markets have always been a part of American society but have been gaining popularity over the past two decades, both in our region and across the country, thanks to a growing interest in becoming environmentally friendly and a greater understanding of how our food choices can impact our health and economy.
“Now more than ever, it’s so important to support local businesses and know where your food is coming from,” Meg explained. “I think a lot of people are looking for that experience, of being able to meet the person who grew their food and make that connection and know for certain that it was farmed sustainably, in a way that helps to preserve the earth.”
This year’s farmers and vendors run the gamut of offerings, from traditional fruits and vegetables to eggs, poultry, flowers, cheese, pies, cookies, breads, gourmet popcorn, dips, sauces, natural soaps and lotions, coffee, kombucha, compost, and books about gardening and other outdoor activities. Each week will feature a new Vendor of the Week, and Phil’s Market Place will also be offering lunch for the first time ever, offering soup, sandwiches, and salads, to be enjoyed at one of several picnic tables or on the go as you cruise the rest of the market.
The Westerly-Pawcatuck Farmers Market is more than just the food, however. Rotating musical entertainment and a dedicated table will feature a Nonprofit of the Week, giving local groups like Save the Bay, Trash Talk, or the YMCA a chance to reach community members and showcase what they can offer them. Yard games like giant Jenga and Yahtzee will be available for kids and adults to play, along with a brand new instrument located on site as part of the Harmony Trail started by Bricks and Murals.
If you’re like me and rarely carry paper currency anymore, worry not – just find the Westerly Land Trust’s table to swipe your credit card in exchange for cash. Benefits like WIC, SNAP, EBT, and Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program are also accepted, so regardless of your background or income level, you can purchase fresh produce from local farmers.
“Our market is for everyone,” Meg reiterates. “Farmers markets offer a unique experience and for us, it’s an awesome privilege to help make something like this happen in Westerly.”
In short? Grab your canvas bag and take the first steps towards going green by strolling through the Farmers Market this summer. There’s always something new and fresh, so come for the fruits and veggies, but stay for the experience.
The Westerly-Pawcatuck Farmers Market will take place every Thursday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., beginning June 20 and running through September 19 (except for the 4th of July), at 85 Main Street in Westerly, right on the rink.