|By G. Michael Dobbs|
HOLYOKE One of the oldest farmers markets in the Pioneer Valley is preparing for its new season and city officials are hoping for the biggest market yet.
Farmers from Holyoke, Chicopee, Deerfield, Belchertown, Amherst and South Hadley gathered at the Holyoke War Memorial last week to discuss plans for this year's Holyoke Farmers Market and Jim Manning, the new market coordinator, noted the turn-out for the meeting was the largest in recent years.
The market has 14 farms currently signed up to participate, Manning said, and it is looking for more vendors. This year, in an effort to broaden the customer base, craft vendors will be invited to the market.
Mayor Michael Sullivan told the farmers that his staff has traveled to farmers markets across the country looking for ideas to make the Holyoke market more appealing. He acknowledged that farmers in the past have resisted the addition of crafts, but other markets have included successfully.
Sullivan also addressed the issue of closing a block of High Street for the weekly market. Although some businesses have complained, he said creating a street festival atmosphere actually creates more spending in the downtown.
"If we can increase the customer base in the Pioneer Valley, we can have a profitable season," Manning said.
Barbara Hamilton of Hamilton Orchards in New Salem was one of the new farmers attending the meeting to consider coming to the Holyoke market. Currently she makes three trips a week to Boston to sell her seasonal produce and baked goods at three different market locations. With the high cost of gasoline, she is now dropping one of the Boston venues for a market closer to home. She said one advantage of the Holyoke market is that she can market her pick-your-own apple season as her orchard is within easy driving distance of Holyoke.
The market will be open every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. starting May 3 and ending in October. The kick-off will include free food samples and music. Master Gardeners of Western Massachusetts will offer soil testing for $1.
The market organizers have planned a number of special events this year, including:
Flower Power Day on May 24
Strawberry Festival on June 14
Take a Senior Moment on June 28 and July 19
Red, White and Blueberry Festival on July 12
Corn Festival on Aug. 9
Children's safety Day on Aug. 23
Garden Explosion Day on Sept. 6
Farmers Market Fund-raiser on Sept. 13
Fall Harvest festival on Oct. 4
For more information on the market, go to www.holyoke.org or call 534-3376.