‘Truly a community’: Holyoke Farmers’ Market kicks off 5-month season

  • From left, Diane Rollins, Mantis Podmore, and Melissa Fifer, staff the D&R Farm booth at the Holyoke Farmers’ Market on Saturday. FOR THE GAZETTE/BRIAN STEELE

For the Gazette
Published: 5/23/2021 12:10:29 PM

HOLYOKE - The Race Street waterfront came to life with the sights and sounds of summer as the Holyoke Farmers’ Market kicked off its five-month season this weekend.

Saturday’s launch featured produce and meat from all over the Pioneer Valley, live music and more than a dozen vendors that are participating for the first time, including local businesses like Bath Thyme Soap, the Holyoke-based non-alcoholic beverage producer NA Brews and candle shop Blu Angel Flame.

“It’s truly a community, a safe community, and it’s awesome,” said market manager Charlie Henzel. “People are ready to get out, have conversations with people, and be in a place that feels COVID-safe, yet we’re together.”

The market is a collaborative effort between the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce and the Holyoke Food and Equity Collective. One goal of their work is to increase access to food in the city, which Henzel described as a “food desert.”

“I’m from Northampton, and you can see the difference in food access,” Henzel said. “There are no grocery stores near low-income housing, or for people who may not have a vehicle, whereas in Northampton, there’s like five grocery stores and not the same population.”

With those challenges in mind, the Holyoke Farmers’ Market accepts SNAP benefits and participates in the Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Program, which allows SNAP users to be reimbursed for the cost of fresh produce up to a monthly cap of $40 for an individual or $80 for a family.

“Access to healthy vegetables is a human right,” said Richie Allien, the farmers’ market manager for Atlas Farm in South Deerfield, as he rang up a customer who bought seven sweet potatoes for less than three dollars. “Having a thriving market is wonderful for every community.”

The 100-acre Atlas Farm primarily sells wholesale produce, and Allien said wholesale customers often reject vegetables that are not pleasing to the eye. At the Holyoke Farmers’ Market, he’s able to sell those perfectly edible vegetables for a bargain, along with other certified organic produce and plants.

Social service organizations like the Commonwealth Care Alliance offered information at Saturday’s market, and the LightHouse Holyoke art program raised funds to support Holyoke public school students. Food trucks lined the waterfront, including Crave, Mr. ICE and Mr. Whippey.

D&R Farm in Hampden sold fresh eggs and chicken, maple syrup, cookies and salsa, among a wide variety of products from their farm in Hampden, while From The Source Fungi offered everything you need to grow your own mushrooms at home.

“It’s been phenomenal so far,” said Diane Rollins of D&R Farm as she helped a steady line of customers. “I’m hoping that the season keeps going. Our farm is getting bigger. We’re growing more and more.”

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the farmers’ market ran during the summer and winter of 2020, but with only three vendors because of occupancy limits set by the state. Henzel said that customers and vendors alike are motivated to reconnect after more than a year of restrictions on large gatherings.

“It’s important,” Henzel said. “A lot of us missed out on that this past year, but things are looking up.”

The market is open every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until Oct. 16. The entrance is at Race and Appleton streets, and due to COVID-19 guidelines, customers are required to wear masks and asked to maintain a safe social distance.

Visitors to the Holyoke Farmers’ Market are asked to use one entrance and one exit, and hand sanitizer is available upon request. All are welcome, and there is no cost for admission.

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