Indoor farmers’ market re-opens in Portsmouth

Mary Potts of Simmons Farm talks to a customer at the Aquidneck Growers' Winter Market at St. Mary's Church Saturday. Mary Potts of Simmons Farm talks to a customer at the Aquidneck Growers' Winter Market at St. Mary's Church Saturday.

PORTSMOUTH — For her efforts as manager of the indoor farmers’ market Saturday at St. Mary’s Church, Judy Hestnes got a big fat goose egg — literally.

Mary Potts of Simmons Farm talks to a customer at the Aquidneck Growers' Winter Market at St. Mary's Church Saturday.

Mary Potts of Simmons Farm talks to a customer at the Aquidneck Growers’ Winter Market at St. Mary’s Church Saturday.

Although Simmons Farm doesn’t sell them at the market, co-owner Karla Simmons knows that Ms Hestnes — also a chef and dietitian — has a thing for goose eggs. So, whenever she can, she brings one along as a gift.

“That’s about three ounces — your omelet,” said Ms. Hestnes, holding up the oversized egg. “It’s like a duck egg in that it’s got a huge, gorgeous yolk and a really rich, buttery flavor — more buttery than a duck egg. They’re absolutely delicious. My favorite way to cook them is to scramble it up and get it the right consistency so it’s going to be really creamy, then put in a few herbs in there.”

Call it the perks of her job as manager of the Aquidneck Growers’ Winter Market, which debuted last November inside the church’s old parish hall. An offshoot of the similarly named summer market behind Newport Vineyards in Middletown, it’s proven to be a hit with customers seeking fresh, local produce during the colder months.

But that doesn’t mean the new market hasn’t experienced some growing pains. The market re-opened Saturday after having been shut down for five weeks to allow local farmers more time to grow their crops.

Homemade jams from Cory's Kitchen at Sweet Berry Farm. "I was on board (with the indoor market) specifically because I have the shelf life that some of these farmers can't enjoy," said owner Steve Mr. Cory.

Homemade jams from Cory’s Kitchen at Sweet Berry Farm. “I was on board (with the indoor market) specifically because I have the shelf life that some of these farmers can’t enjoy,” said owner Steve Mr. Cory.

“Part of it was we had a limited amount of produce. We had a cold snap, plus this came together kind of at the last minute,” said Ms. Hestnes. “We didn’t know until the end of October that we’d be able to have a winter market, so the farmers didn’t have enough lead time to grow extra produce.”

Because of the makeup of the market, Ms. Hestnes said its success is largely dependent on the yield from local growers. “Hopefully what distinguishes us from other markets is that we’ll only sell produce if it’s local,” she said.

There was an upside to the market being temporarily shut down. It was originally slated to end this month, but now that growers have had more time the market will be open through the end of May before moving back to Newport Vineyards.

Attendance was brisk Saturday, as both new patrons and regulars browsed for fresh veggies, cheese, grass-fed beef, coffee, seafood, jams and jellies and more while enjoying music by the Patty and Buster Show.

“We’ve had a bunch of regulars who have said, ‘Oh, thank goodness the market’s open.’ But because we did some advertising on NPR, we’ve also had some newbies,” said Ms. Hestnes.

Vendors pleased with business

Steve Cory, who owns and operates Cory’s Kitchen at Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, was glad to hear about the winter market starting up. “I was on board specifically because I have the shelf life that some of these farmers can’t enjoy,” said Mr. Cory, who was selling homemade jams and jellies at the market Saturday.

Loafs of bread from Provencal Bakery.

Loafs of bread from Provencal Bakery.

Still, he agreed with Ms. Hestnes that the first season has been a test. “This is our first experiment with winter. It’s a challenge and it was a challenging winter. The farmers kind of need a whole year of lead time,” said Mr. Cory.

Whether they’re being operated in the winter or summer, he said, farmers’ markets are an important tool for local vendors to get their product out.

“Face time with customers is everything, not only to remind people that you’re in business but to get feedback — ‘What do you like to eat?’ What do you think is trendy now?'” said Mr. Cory.

And sometimes, he gets ideas for his product line.

“You hear people say, ‘Oh, grandmother made this, or my aunt had this great recipe.’ So you can do a little research and say, ‘Hey, that might work, or I’ll add a little touch to it.’ These are a lot of old New England flavors,” he said.

Monique Colasante of the Matunuck Oyster & Vegetable Farm said the market and the restaurant help promote each other.

“People either know us from the restaurant, so it makes them want to buy our produce, or it’s the opposite; they see us at the farmers’ market and they want to come to the restaurant,” said Ms. Colasante, who also goes to three other farmers’ markets.

Saturday was Jacob Telford’s first day at the winter market as a representative for Aquidneck Farms of Wapping Road, which sells fresh beef and pastured poultry.

“I really like it because I get to meet a lot of people and the regulars who come in every week,” Mr. Telford said, adding that he’s received a good response from people. “Everything is 100 percent grass-fed. Some people will say something about the price being a little bit higher, but it fills you up quicker because it has a lot more substance. It has more iron and omega-3 content so it’s a lot more filling and better for you.”

People ‘friendlier’ in Portsmouth

The purveyor of the goose egg, Simmons Farm, is glad to see the market up and running again. Farm members were there Saturday selling artisan cheeses, yogurt and more —  “all fresh-made, on the farm,” said Mary Potts.

“We’ve been busy today. People want fresh, local food,” she said. “We were closed for five weeks and it was awful. We were in Providence and I noticed a huge difference in Portsmouth. The people are much friendlier. I like this market. It’s fun.”

It’s also good for business, said Aidan Simmons. “It makes most of our profit in the winter,” said Miss Simmons, who calls the Portsmouth market “comforting.”

That’s something Ms. Hestnes has heard many times.

The regulars “love coming here just for the sense of community,” she said. “It’s kind of warm and cozy.”

Dos and don’ts of composting

Some of the most loyal patrons of The Aquidneck Growers’ Market don’t even come inside the church parish hall to peruse the fresh produce.

“There are a lot of people who just come to drop off their compost,” said Judy Hestnes, market manager.

The market collects food scraps to use as compost for St. Mary’s Church’s garden. When it moves to Newport Vineyards in June, the compost will be used for Sustainable Aquidneck’s community garden at the end of Green End Avenue in Middletown.

Compost can be dropped off at St. Mary’s when the Saturday market is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Just make sure it’s real compost.

“Most people are pretty good about it,” said Ms. Hestnes, “but I had this one woman who dropped off garbage, not compost. I was sifting through and she’s got chicken noodle soup and beef.”

Here’s what you can and can’t drop off.

Yes: Fruit scarps, cooked or uncooked vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filters, eggshells

No: Meats, fish and cheeses, yard waste, citrus peels, kitty litter or dog mess, grains, bread and pastry.

Bring you scraps in a reusable container or a brown paper bag.

The food-scrap collection program is sponsored by Newport Restaurant Group, with support from Sustainable Aquidneck and Aquidneck Growers’ Market. Learn more at www.ecoRI.org/compost.

The Aquidneck Growers’ Winter Market is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through May 25 at St. Mary’s old parish hall, 324 East Main Road, Portsmouth. To be added to the e-mail list for updates and events, send a note to aquidneckgrowersmarket@verizon.net or visit www.aquidneckgrowersmarket.org.

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