Farmers Market in Jeopardy

At today's meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Alexis Gazy, the New Canaan Farmer's Market Master, explained that our farmer's market is in jeopardy due to the tomato blight, the cost of commuting and other financial constraints on farmers.   In addition to adding chef demonstrations, music and potential sponsorships to the current farmer's market, there was some discussion about moving the location from the Center School lot to the area behind Town Hall.  Downtown business owners expressed concerns that the market should not detract from, and, in fact, should benefit, their businesses by increasing foot traffic. The location of the market will be determined at the next meeting on April 27th.  Meanwhile, the cost of the health inspections and police officers to direct traffic will be examined and reduced, if possible.

For the record, I can think of plenty of ways to draw business from where the market resides in the Center School Lot.  Don't we encourage people to park there and walk to town anyway?    Once you tuck the farmer's market in an area crowded with farmers' trucks behind Elm street and ask people to pay for parking, it may adversely affect the market.  Perhaps the best compromise would be to close down Elm Street to traffic and hold the market on the street since the business owners explained that Saturdays are "dead" anyway.  

Many residents, like farmers and area business owners, are proud and don't want to admit the extent to which the economic downturn is affecting them.   Not to mention that Saturdays are busy with sports and parties and errands.  Let's face it - the pace of family life in New Canaan does not support strolling around unless there is a specific draw.  So, the key is to offer something special - indeed, an experience that cannot be purchased cheaper online.  

Nutrition, fitness and wellness are hot topics across the nation and in our town.  We are launching our first Wellness Policy for the public school district soon and there is a lot of momentum building in favor of creating a walkable community initiative.  So, the timing is right for local businesses to piggyback on the success of the farmer's market by creating a mutually beneficial relationship.  Let's try some new things and monitor how they impact traffic and sales.  

Here are some ideas to jumpstart the conversation:
1. Local stores can send "models" wearing their latest fashions and hand out coupons and ideas to update your wardrobe.   
2. Give the farmer's market a free Chamber membership to ensure that they are aware of every opportunity to collaborate.
3. Use the Getabout vehicles to drive people to lots and other key areas (like we do with the May Fair).  
4. Encourage local restaurants to offer a farmer's market special made with locally grown ingredients.
5. Get the Farmer's Market on board with iBlast.  People have cash there and are interested in supporting local business and farmers, so it is a great place to sell iBlast memberships.  This could be a form of "sponsorship."  
6.  Offer businesses the opportunity to sponsor music, reusable bags (and the smaller net bags that hold delicate produce), transportation to area parking, etc.  
7.  Encourage creative partnerships - Art & Soul could offer flowerpot painting in conjunction with a flower purchase for Mother's Day.  A toy store could sell build your own birdhouse kits along with a farmer selling seed.  Local chefs and/or cookbook authors could offer cooking demos featuring locally grown food and offer discounts on that dish at their restaurant and/or farmer's market lunch specials.  
8.  Let the Nature Center and/or gardening club offer tips to home owners to help beautify their property. 
9.  Allow people to purchase and donate produce to our local food pantry by creating a donation basket at the market.
10. Offer rubber bracelets, temporary tattoos or balloons for kids, and dog treats and stroller parking to reward people/pets who walk over to downtown stores from the market.
11.  Work with local sporting goods stores to create a walkable route from the farmer's market to downtown stores and offer stamps, discounts and water stations at area stores. 

I applaud all of you for working so hard to benefit our community.  You can count on me to continue to support your efforts and encourage the members of Nourish New Canaan to do the same.  Let's work together between now and the April 27th Board of Selectmen meeting to brainstorm ideas.  I have no doubt that New Canaan will emerge with a stronger downtown and a greater sense of community by helping each other get through this latest economic challenge.