David and Lisa Wilson, owners of Good Vibes Kettle Corn, at the Cromwell Farmers Market
We’re now in the heart of the farmers’ market season and so far this summer we’ve discovered the delightful charm of Wethersfield’s weekly festivities and explored the variety of healthy homegrown options that Rocky Hill has to offer.
This week we turn out attention our farm fresh friends in Cromwell, who put on a weekly farmers market that is second to none.
Heather Polke is the founder and CFO (Chief Fun Organizer) for the market, located at 1 River Road in Cromwell. She has witnessed the market grow by leaps and bounds since it debuted three summers ago.
“I had the idea for a farmers market and so I approached the town back in 2014. This park was never utilized and I said that I’d love to create a farmers market,” remembered Polke, “They didn’t grasp the logistics at first and I had to go through different approval processes, but it got approved and now here we are.”
The unique location has all the glorious benefits of the other farmers markets, but also has additional convenience and scenic amenities which have market goers coming back week after week.
“They love that the cars are with them for unpacking and packing, and of course having the water as our background helps,” added Polke, “We are the only waterfront farmers market in Connecticut.”
Nearly 40 vendors fill the waterfront park every Friday from 4-7, offering local goods that are as unique as the setting.
Cindy Witter, who owns 24 Peace, is one of the many vendors who are proving that buying and selling local is not just a fad.
“I got laid off from the corporate world and I was not going back. I started the business to carry on my sister’s name. My sister is no longer here and she was a wonderful artist,” said Witter, whose earth-friendly and charitable company sells some of the softest apparel around. “I was doing a little spring cleaning and found her artwork and she had really dedicated herself to the artist community, so I came up with the idea. Even though she has been gone for over 15 years, I called up her son and asked if I could use his mom’s artwork and he said she would love that. She’s kind of the backbone and foundation of the business. It took off from there.”
The budding company now has 14 local artists designing and the shirts are printed in Middletown.
“We add artists all the time, but they are all local. The artists love the idea of it and the idea of us supporting them. We put their names on the back of each tag so you can actually see who they are and it tells a little bit about them. We hand screen print their artwork on ecofriendly clothing, using ecofriendly ink. The artist get a portion of the sales and a portion goes to charity,” added Witter, “It’s truly local. This is our third year here and it’s a beautiful, beautiful place. We find that’s our customers really are the farmers market customers. They like that it’s local and that it’s good for the earth.”
The market also has plenty of food vendors selling locally made cuisine that can be enjoyed at the market or on the go.
Food trucks are a staple every Friday night, serving up freshly made treats and sweets. Vegan and vegetarian specialist Gmonkey Mobile is a regular, along with the Hardcore Sweet Cupcake Truck and Sweet Madeline's Donuts.
Good Vibes Kettle Corn is a must-stop when visiting the market. Owner’s Lisa and David Wilson are popping up some of the most delicious and distinct flavors of the sweet goodness every week.
“We wanted to do something that was outside and where we get to meet people. We researched it and kettle corn was kind of an easy startup for us,” said Lisa, who launched the business with her husband a year ago and are first-year vendors in Cromwell, “This is a great farmers market, we do well here.”
The Wilson believe that extreme heat is the key to a successful batch of kettle corn and have about a dozen different flavors in their repertoire. They always have their most popular, sweet and salty, along with cinnamon and a rotating third flavor every Friday.
Baker Simonne Mularski, who owns Biscotti and Beyond, has several varieties of biscotti on hand for sample and purchasing. Like many of the other vendors she has a homegrown story that is tailor-made for a farmers market.
“I had a daycare for over 30 years and I would always bake and give it away. My health took a bit of a turn with my knees and I had to give up the daycare and the logical thing to do was go into baking. People seemed to love all my baking, so I thought I would try biscotti. I started with two flavors and every year I’ve created new flavors,” stated Mularski, who turned her garage into a biscotti haven four years ago, “This is my first year here. It’s been wonderful. It’s been very well received.”
Mularski added that she loves baking and selling biscotti at the market, but her busiest time of the year is during the holidays when she puts together cookie platters for any holiday occasion.
Barbara Gibson is in her second year at the market and is the owner of Super Soups. The summer months aren’t usually associated with soups, but the beauty of Gibson’s product is that it’s dehydrated, portable, and easy.
“Just add water. You don’t need to add anything else, everything is already in the bag,” said Gibson, who is based out of Meriden and was originally planning on starting a hotdog cart before becoming a soupologist, “I was here last year and it’s surprising how much soup I can sell in 90 degree weather. We’re here until October, so we get a lot of fall business too.”
Gibson added that she gets a lot of repeat business from the farmers market and that the key to her soups is the special mixture of herbs and spices that go into each recipe.
Of course no farmers market would be complete without farm fresh produce and Cromwell-based Phoenix Farms offers up plenty of certified organic homegrown harvest.
“This is our third year here, we’ve been here since it opened,” said farmer Christine Whitney, “Our farm is only a half mile down the river. People that come to the farmers market will also come to the farm.”
Christine owns the farm with her husband, John. The farm is equipped with greenhouses, allowing them to grown seasonal vegetables year round. They are also regulars at the Wethersfield Farmers Market and their farm stand, located at 76 Nooks Hill Road, is open to the public on Thursdays from 4-7 and on Sundays from 10-3 during the fall harvest season.
All of the vendors at the Friday festival participate in the Friends of the Market program, which was created to provide funds that support activities and entertainment at the market.
In exchange for a $20 donation, market goers receive a tote which gives them special discounts from the vendors all season long.
The market runs through the end of September and it’s already been an eventful season with plenty more on the horizon.
“This summer has been great. We had pet’s days and we had kid’s day where kids come and sell their own stuff. I’m a huge believer in entrepreneurship, so the kids get to create and sell,” added Polke, “We just got a sponsorship from Liberty Bank and we’re going to create the first Children’s Community Garden in town. We’re going to do a full garden and we’re going to have beehives and everything. It’s going to be hands on. We want to incorporate the fresh vegetables into the cafeterias in our schools, which we don’t have, and the kids get to grow and provide them to the food bank here, so they can have fresh vegetables every week.”
It’s all part of Polke’s plan to keep delivering the locally-made and farm fresh message to Cromwell and beyond. In her three years since starting the farmers market, she has already seen a change in how people view local and fresh.
“I think it takes a long time for people to realize the difference, but they’re educating themselves. You can get a tomato from the grocery store, but when you get one that is just picked and is fresh it’s like night and day. Literally you’ll go through withdrawals in the winter, because nothing tastes the same.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin