Tilton Winter Farmers Market in need of a new home

Last modified: 7/30/2015 11:50:26 PM
Joan O’Connor, the manager of the Tilton Winter Farmers Market, envisions a bright, expansive space for the market. A place with atmosphere, a facility full of sunlight that is reminiscent of Boston’s Faneuil Hall.

“I’d love a beautiful building,” she said. “Some kind of a building that gives you mental health in the dead of winter.”

But as summer speeds along, O’Connor’s market has no home for this coming winter, never mind one with atmosphere.

“It’s a hard nut to crack to get a building you use one day a week,” said Doug Breed of Red Sox Farm in Gilmanton, one of the market’s vendors.

For the past four years, the Tilton Winter Farmers Market has been held in a building on Route 3 owned by AutoServ, which gave a “reasonable lease” for the market, according to a press release from O’Connor. But the dealership has found a year-round tenant for the space, leaving the market searching for a new home.

“All these years, I knew it was a very delicate balance,” she said. “For four years, I was so lucky to have that building.”

Within the next few months, O’Connor needs a new venue that fits her requirements – a 12,000- to 15,000-square-foot heated space with parking for at least 75 customers and 50 vendors that is easily accessible.

“My No. 2 statement . . . is I don’t have a chunk of money,” she said. “I’m not wealthy. . . . I’ve done it on a shoestring.”

AutoServ assisted financially and logistically, helping with plowing, salting and sanding, she said.

“Winter just adds that degree of difficulty to these things,” she said. “They did so much for me for four years.”

With hope of starting the market in December and continuing through March, O’Connor is looking for a partner who owns a warehouse, showroom or mill space who is able to assist with the costs of maintaining the facility in the winter. And in order to accommodate the vendors, she needs a solution within the next month or two.

Market vendors, of which there are about 50, need sufficient time to plan their crops or products for the season, an added complication to the winter market’s fate.

“They have to make their business plan,” O’Connor said.

Many of the vendors sell at multiple markets. Red Sox Farm, which produces canned goods such as relishes, low sugar jam spreads and sugar-free fruit butters, has a stand at both the Tilton market and Concord market on Saturdays.

“We don’t want to lose the market,” Breed said. “It would be a loss in revenue.”

Vendors have prepared for a winter potentially without the market in different ways. Surowiec Farm in Sanbornton extended its season and hours.

“Sometimes the writing is on the wall,” said Katie Surowiec. “We’ve already taken steps to try to head that off by extending hours. . . . We’re happy if it comes to be, but we’re all set if it doesn’t.”

If the Tilton market finds a new home, Surowiec said she anticipates still being able to supply customers there, despite extending her farm’s hours.

“Everybody’s looking for something fresh in the winter,” she said.

Though Tilton is in the name, O’Connor is not committed to just that town for the market.

“Now I’m broadening out my scope,” she said. “We’re looking for population hubs.”

A Henniker resident, O’Connor is willing to move the market out of Tilton, just not to a location that would be too difficult for her travel to each Saturday.

And while this is the first move for the Tilton market, this is not the first time O’Connor has searched for a home for a winter market. O’Connor was a founder of the Concord winter market, but her partnership with Charlie Cole ended in 2011, according to previous Monitor reporting.

A farmers market that has had a successful transition of venues is the Salem NH Farmers Market, which was started five years ago.

“We’ve been very lucky that we’ve been able to find spaces for our market,” said Jane Lang, volunteer market coordinator and president of the New Hampshire Farmers’ Market Association. The year-round market in Salem has received much community support, she said. The market has changed locations a few times and is currently hosted by the Salem Market Place. This winter it will be held in the cafeteria of an elementary school.

“I think when you’re doing something good for your community, your community should open up,” Lang said.

Future expansion

Right now, the Tilton Winter Farmers Market needs a home to occupy starting in December. But in the long run, O’Connor hopes for a larger, year-round market.

“New Hampshire doesn’t have one big, beautiful farmers market,” she said.

There are, however, markets spread out across the state. In the spring and summer, farmers markets are plentiful in New Hampshire, with more than 50 held, according to data from the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture. In the winter, that number is cut in half and the dates and hours of many of those are limited, with some open just once a month.

Lang doesn’t see a need for a large, central farmers market, but rather likes the idea of maintaining local control.

“I think that’s what makes the farmers market successful,” she said. “It’s the community that’s supporting that.”

New farmers markets are also being founded throughout the state, Lang said.

“A goal that I’m trying to do is help different places, communities, organize farmers markets,” she said. “As an association, we want to see farmers markets sustaining.”

A list of this past season’s winter markets from the Department of Agriculture also showed markets in the central part of the state in Contoocook, Canterbury, Danbury, Henniker, New London, Warner and Weare.

When it started, the Tilton market had about half the vendors it had this past year, and O’Connor hopes to expand it further. The market attracts between 1,200 and 1,600 customers each market day, she wrote in a press release.

“I could put 100 vendors in a market,” she said. One section of a market could be dedicated to just artisans, while one section could be dedicated to food.

Expansion, she said, is not about money but about her love of the field. In addition to running the market, she owns Joan’s Famous Composting Worms (“I’m the worm lady,” she said) and is a board member at the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of New Hampshire.

“I don’t need to make a fortune,” she said. “I’m trying to do a good market. . . . I love this stuff, it’s a passion.”

(Susan Doucet can be reached at 369-3309, sdoucet@cmonitor.com or on Twitter 

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