|By Lori Szepelak|
Sweet breads in season, colorfully decorated cookies and an array of bread loafs were among the delicious offerings of Gabriella Steria of Stony Creek Farm Store at the Westfield Farmers' Market on May 15 on the Town Green.
Steria is among the countless farmers, gardeners and bakers who will be showcasing their wares at farmers' markets across the region from now through the fall.
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), based in South Deerfield, notes that the Pioneer Valley boasts 30 farmers' markets with at least one open each day of the week. CISA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to sustain agriculture in Western Massachusetts by focusing on strengthening relationships between farmers and consumers, farm profitability, environmental sustainability and preserving rural communities.
CISA officials note that to make the most of a visit to a farmers' market, area residents should consider these tips:
Go early. Getting to the market when it opens will give you access to the best produce before everything is picked over.
Take a walk. When you first arrive, take a moment to walk the entire length of the market. This will give you a chance to take a look at what everyone has to offer before buying. Also, you can compare prices for the best deal and you may find things that aren't on your list.
Bring a bag. Many farmers offer plastic bags for the produce you buy, but if you shop around at multiple stands, you may end up with too many bags to handle. A larger canvas bag is ideal to fit all of your goods and it's good for the environment.
Take cash. Many farmers only accept cash at the farmers' market, so come prepared with smaller bills and change.
Ask questions. Don't be shy about asking the vendors about their products since you may come across a new favorite food or plant. This is also your chance to ask your farmers questions including advice on storage, recipes and how to pick the ripest produce.
Enjoy yourself. Stop and enjoy the sights and sounds of the market. Farmers' markets are a great place to get to know your farmers and neighbors. Above all, take a moment to relish in the bounty of local agriculture.
CISA also notes that every dollar spent at the farmers' market is a dollar reinvested in the local economy.
Several farmers' markets are already underway for the season, with others opening in the coming weeks. Local farmers' markets across Hampden County include:
Westfield Town Green, Thursdays, 2 to 6 p.m., now through Sept. 25.
Farmers' Market at the X, 361 Sumner Ave., Springfield, Tuesdays, 12:30 to 6 p.m., now through Oct. 28.
Springfield Cooperative, Avocado Street, Springfield, Saturdays, 7 to 11 a.m., now through Oct. 25.
Farmers' Market on High Street, between Suffolk Street and Holyoke City Hall, Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., now through Oct. 23.
A Farmers' Market at Tower Square in downtown Springfield opens June 4 and runs through Sept. 24 on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Jewish Community Center on Dickinson Street in Springfield will host a Farmers' Market on Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon, from June 6 through October.
The Chicopee Farmers' Market off Chicopee Street, under the I-391 overpass, opens July 2 and runs through Sept. 10 on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Also, the Shriners Hospital on Carew Street in Springfield will host a Farmers' Market on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., from July 10 to Oct. 9, and the Mason Square Health Center at 11 Wilbraham Road, Springfield, will offer its parking lot for a Farmers' Market on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., from July 12 to Oct. 4.
WIC and senior coupons are accepted at all locations.
For a complete list of farmers' markets across the state, visit www.mass.gov/massgrown/farmers_markets.htm.
To download CISA's Farm Products Guide, visit www.buylocalfood.com.