Three weeks into it’s season, the Florence Farmers' Market outside of the Florence Civic Center on the corner of Park and Main is geraniums, rhubarb and mushrooms.
“It gets very busy once we have a lot of produce,” says Maureen Dempsey of Intervale Farm in Westhampton. Dempsey is one of five people on the board of volunteers for the market. In January they meet to review applications of prospective vendors, then choose based on need and space availability. This year will feature ten vendors, not all of which have shown up today. The end of June will bring a maple syrup vendor, and a fruit producer once strawberries are back in season.
But most of the vendors have been here since the beginning. The market started 19 years ago, enough time for secretary Deb O’Leary to raise her daughter Hannah on their family’s farm in Southampton. Hannah is the treasurer of the Florence Farmers' Market. She has been farming with her family, “Since forever. As long as I could walk I guess,” says Hannah.
Farming also runs in the family in the case of vendor John Spineti of Twin Oaks Farm in Feeding Hills.
“I can trace my ancestry back to Italy and Croatia, over 500 years. Both sides of my family. My mother and father; they’re all farmers,” says Spineti, who is now president of the Amherst Farmers' Market. Spineti, too, has been coming to the Florence Farmers' Market since it opened. “Actually it’s laid back and slow. It’s a wonderful village, Florence is. And it has a certain characteristic of people that come here to retire. They like just walking through the market.”
Over the years, Spineti has gotten to know the people in the neighborhood. He says they have always looked out for the market vendors. “If there were a storm coming, people would come and warn us about it,” he says. “This would be the place I would move to if I could leave the farm.”
Some of the vendors, like Anna Hatchett of Manda Farm in Plainfield, have stands at their own farms so as not to take time away from work. “It takes a lot of time to go to [farmers' markets]. It takes too much time off from the farm.”
Hatchett and her husband raise livestock in Plainfield. Today she came alone to the market after loading up coolers with the meat. “I have one car that’s just my market car,” says Hatchett.
Manda Farm specializes in organic livestock. “I like to show people how meat can be raised humanely; wean people away from factory meat. It also tastes much better,” says Hatchett.
Specialized farming is a running theme at the market, with vendors like Lisa Westervelt, shepherd and owner of Cranberry Moon Farm in Cummington. Westervelt, a returning vendor after 15 years now farms full time, raising rare breeds of sheep on her 20 acre farm.
For Julia Coffey of Mycoterra Farm in Westhampton, this year will mark her first as a vendor. “It’s always great to see people’s expressions when they see something strange and unusual,” says Coffey, who grows shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms on wood chips and sawdust, supplementing them with organic wheat bran.
“I grew up around here. This was always one of my favorite farmers' markets. I was really excited to get in this year,” says Coffey.