By LIBBY CUDMORE
COOPERSTOWN – For Ellen Pope, Otsego 2000 executive director, The Cooperstown Farmers’ Market isn’t just a place to pick up some fresh produce for dinner. It’s a piece of the community.
“Having it here has added to our quality of life,” she said. “It gives people a reason to come downtown on the weekends.”
The Farmers’ Market is one of six businesses that will be inducted into the 2019 class of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce’s Business Hall of Fame at a March 28 ceremony at Brewery Ommegang.
The market was founded in 1991, with a handful of farmers renting stalls. “Farmers were facing a declining landscape, and this was a way of connecting them directly with their customers,”
These days, as many as 32 farmers – that’s the maximum number of stalls the Pioneer Alley location
can hold – sell apples to spinach, bread – with gluten-free varieties available – maple syrup, meats and cheeses, even puppets, wood carvings and fresh-made sandwiches.
“We have fresh-cut flowers nearly year ’round,” she said. “You can get rabbit, duck and smoked trout here. That didn’t exist in the early days, because we didn’t have those producers. Over the years, we’ve seen them come in.”
That’s uncommon for a farmer’s market, she said. “The range of goods is what makes this market so unique,” she said. “We’d love to get milk in here, but pasteurization is so expensive.”
Meg Kennedy, the county representative who sells flowers from her family’s Mount Vision greenhouse, mans the stall her father founded in 1991. “It’s a great opportunity to provide to a local market,” she said. “Direct marketing is a continuing trend in farming.”
She says it dovetails with her county board work. “Some of these farmers have received grants through the county so that they can continue to grow their business here at the Farmers Market,” she said.
As the market grew, it expanded from one day to two in the summer – Tuesdays and Saturdays – and stays open through the winter. Last summer, Tuesday hours began in June to accommodate the high traffic, which was estimated to be over 900 a week.
“We have our Hardy Locavore program” – for consumers of local produce – now in its second year, where you get a stamp for every winter market you attend,” she said. “If you attend 10 of the 13 markets between January and April, you get a long-sleeve T-shirt with the ‘Hardy Locavore 2019’ logo.”
This year, the market is offering a chance to buy two visits, for those who might be out of town and miss their market, for $25. “We have people who go away on vacation,” she said. “We call it being a ‘Friend of’ the Farmer’s Market.”
Pope’s own bag – reusable, of course – was filled with her own groceries: Fennel sausage, spinach, eggs, cheese and shallots for a stew she was making. “You can do all your grocery shopping here.”
The market also accepts SNAP benefits, as well as EBT and Fresh Connect.
But more than a market, Pope emphasizes their community connection. “We have live music nine months out of the year,” she said. “When the Glimmerglass Festival had their hip-hopera ‘Stomping Grounds,’ they workshopped it here. We’ve had a dance, and the annual Youth Food Movement student conference is held here. We’re proud of the fact that we’re rooted in the community.”
They also just had their annual “Grilled Cheese For a Good Cause” fundraiser, which raised $6,000 for the market.
“It’s a wonderful honor,” said Pope. “It’s a vital gathering place, and it’s nice to be recognized by the Chamber.”