Eleven years ago screen legend Paul Newman and famed chef Michel Nischan were opening The Dressing Room restaurant and noted that Westport, for all its cosmopolitan amenities, didn’t have a farmer’s market. So they planted the seed for one in back of the restaurant’s parking lot with a few local farmers. From humble beginnings, the Westport Farmer’s Market (WFM) is now a thriving weekly event and a cult favorite, attracting some forty weekly vendors and thousands of locavores from throughout Fairfield County. The market is held every Thursday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Imperial Parking Lot behind the Westport Library.
Vendors set up spaces at the Westport Farmer’s Market, held every Thursday
As much a social outing as an excursion to shop Connecticut’s finest locally grown organic fare, the annual opening of the Westport Farmer’s’ Market is a sign that spring has sprung and that summer is around the corner.
This year’s opening kicked off with two jam-packed parking lots, sunny skies and twenty-nine popular regular vendors, including Riverbank Farm, Rose’s Berry Farm, Fort Hill Farm, Wave Hill Breads Bakery, The Stand and Silvermine Apiary. Farmers reconnected with fans and local chefs picking up fresh ingredients for their menus.
WFM Executive Director Lori Cochran-Dougall says, “The turnout on opening day was humbling. Farmers, bakers and all who participate felt that this was the best first day yet. Personally, opening day can be daunting for me. I worry and worry that no one will come and to be proven so wrong reminds me that this is an incredibly supportive community.”
WFM’s strong vendor lineup (also featuring ten novel rotating vendors, like Nit Noi Provisions, a Thai noodle vendor who is sourcing locally and plans to grow and sell its own garlic and pepper paste) makes it one of the highest-caliber, producer-only markets in the state.
Standing at five-foot, four-inches with a faintly southern drawl, Cochran-Dougall, originally from Virginia, is a force of nature who sets a high bar: she doesn’t abide “jobbers” (those who try to pass off goods grown elsewhere as those farmed locally) or phonies whose merchandise isn’t grown or made responsibly. She personally vets the farms and vendors thoroughly to ensure that they are non-GMO, organic and the real McCoy; she also is an outspoken advocate for the regional food economy.
Clearly, the market reaches a group that knows and loves it, but what about all the other Westporters? Cochran-Dougall says, “I ponder this topic daily. There are many Westporters who have thought about coming or drive by and yet just have not made that first step. One, I would love input on how to get more people to our market, and, two, those who have been thinking about coming should give it a try. What could it hurt?”
One of the best reasons to visit is lunch. Favorites include Tapas Box assorted tapas; Pizza from Skinny Pines Pizza, a vendor who trucks a wood-fired oven onto the lot and cooks up sizzling gourmet pies with organic local ingredients, like the Breakfast Pie with pasture-raised bacon, local egg, and shredded mozzarella. Another must-try is the organic Mexican fare from Boxcar Cantina, including shredded beef tamales, tortilla soup, handcut chips with fresh salsa and a refreshing limeade. While eating at a communal table, you can catch up with old friends, meet new ones and enjoy people watching. You’ll finally “get” what everyone is buzzing about.
SHOP LIKE AN INSIDER
A first-timer’s guide to the WFM
Bring a freezer pack and a shopping list.
ASK FOR HELP
Stop at the Information Tent and say you’re a newbie. They’ll set you up with a roomy, bright blue reusable burlap tote ($40) that signals to vendors that you’re a Friend of the Market (this program is WFM’s largest fundraising effort) and that you should get discounts and promotions.
In one visit, you can knock out staples: bread, eggs, bacon, meat, fish, chicken, greens and fruits and even a few desserts and doggie treats.
If you’re looking a particular item, like grass-fed Acadia Farms Beef, Raus Coffee, Nutty Bunny Ice Cream or flounder from The Daily Catch, flag down a roving “market ambassador” (wearing Market Ts and badges) to point you in the right direction.
Ask about events, such as live music, book signings, yoga, recipe contests and visits by baby farm animals. Don’t miss the demos by local chefs.