The Bellevue Farmers Market will open for a second year in a row Thursday, but not without considerable effort.
The fate of the market was never a sure thing. No new market’s fate ever is. From recruiting vendors and promotion to setup and managing day-to-day or week-to-week operations, keeping a farmers market afloat requires time and money.
But after a decent trial run last summer, Bellevue residents weren’t about to give up on their dream of keeping the market alive just because the wildly successful Schenectady Greenmarket decided it could no longer sponsor the satellite operation. They had tried for years to get a market in their section of town, and finally it had come.
“Because we are a food desert, really, our purpose was to try to bring more people within the community and the surrounding community to the market,” said Julia Lewis, president of neighborhood organization Bellevue Preservation Inc. “That was our goal and that still is our goal. We’re going to keep trying and keep trying.”
The Schenectady Greenmarket won a nearly $7,000 state grant last year to cover all the first-year costs of a satellite market it decided to open in Bellevue. For three hours every Thursday afternoon, the parking lot of Maranatha Ministries at 2176 Broadway filled up with nearly a dozen vendors from across the Capital Region and beyond who offered fresh produce, herbs, cheeses and baked goods.
The market started off slowly, and by mid-season was averaging about 300 to 400 patrons a week — no Sunday on Jay Street, but no small accomplishment either.
After a 17-week run, the market closed up for the season. Schenectady Greenmarket members met with Bellevue Preservation members in February to let them know they wouldn’t be sponsoring the market for a second year, but could help out in an advisory capacity.
“We have a lot of hopes and dreams, but it’s really just a limit of time,” said Jennifer Wilkerson, a founding member of the Greenmarket and current promotions chair. “Between the planning, managing, booking community groups, promotion, community outreach, et cetera, there aren’t enough hours in the day.”
The board members and volunteers who keep the Schenectady Greenmarket going are already strapped for time getting 75 booths set up each Sunday on a year-round basis, in addition to bringing in musicians, doing promotions, vendor relations and more. They hope to have more time for similar ventures once they hire their first-ever full-time employee, who can take some of the day-to-day stuff off of the board’s shoulders, said Wilkerson.
“Our goal is to build a local food network, whether it be starting new markets, or developing a farmed restaurant program or a farmed school program,” she said. “Any one of those things are directions I see us going in. We see ourselves as sort of an incubator. At some point, we know that most of our vendors will move on from our market and that’s a great thing. We see them becoming successful, opening their own farm stands, getting into regional and national grocery stores, and that’s all good. We want them to outgrow us and become strong.”
In the meantime, the Greenmarket has coached members of Bellevue Preservation Inc. on running their own farmers market.
“None of us really are experts in any of it,” said Lewis. “But we’ve done it. From scratch. We have everything. We have all of our approvals.”
They found different vendors and applied to a variety of state and federal programs like the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which provides checks to women, infants, children and seniors to purchase locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. They became members of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York and received approval to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program benefits through electronic benefit cards.
The nonprofit neighborhood organization formed a committee of four, who will be in charge of running the farmers market. Other members will volunteer when they can.
The group even applied for and won the same state grant that the well-organized, established Schenectady Greenmarket won last year. It won’t receive the money, though, until after the season is over and it can prove it met certain criteria.
The market will open Thursday with eight vendors — Barber’s Farm of Middleburgh; Bella Terra Farm of Sprakers; Buhrmaster Farms of Scotia; Napoli Bakery of Schenectady; Soulicious of Schenectady; Taj Majal Indian Restaurant of Schenectady; There’s No Place Like Home of Schenectady; Truffle’s Cupcakes by Collette of Schenectady.
And in response to area residents who said they hoped to stop by after work to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables, organizers moved the weekly market back an hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Beginning Sept. 19, hours will move up a bit from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. until Oct. 3, when the market closes for the season.
“We’re hoping it will be successful,” said Lewis. “We listened to the public and vendors and we hope that with some of our changes — like last year people were looking for the fall fruits, the early apples, the peaches, things of that sort, along with the winter squashes. We have those things this year and will have a wider variety of items available. So we hope it will be successful, but you can only do the best that you can do. We need the public’s support.”