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Variety of vendors contributed to busy season at Watertown farmers market


Aubrey J. Smith, a 9-week-old, napped in her stroller Wednesday morning at the Watertown Farm & Craft Market on Washington Street while Margaret G. Patchen gingerly pulled a purple crocheted hat — made cute by a pink flower — over her head.

The baby continued to sleep undisturbed as the $8 hat was removed and paid for by her mother, Marlana J. Smith, during the last day of the market hosted by the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce.

Mrs. Patchen said her sales were up from last year at the market, where a total of 57 vendors participated this season. She attributed that success to an expanded offering of handmade items, including tutu dresses made for young girls and priced from $15 to $40. She also sold turtleneck sweaters for short-haired dogs, designed to keep them warm during the winter.

“I’ve heard many times from customers that I should sell more than just hats during the summer, and the tutus have been very popular this season,” she said. “You have to keep changing things up to have people come back every year to buy things.”

The variety of vendors at the farmers market this year impressed Mrs. Smith, who visited the market for the first time Wednesday with her husband, Jacob W. Smith, a 24-year-old Fort Drum soldier who returned from Afghanistan two weeks ago. The young couple from Fort Smith, Ark., said the farmers market is a notch above others they’ve visited.

In Arkansas, “markets are usually out of town so you have to drive a half-hour, and they only sell fruits and vegetables,” Mrs. Smith said. “I like having the variety here, and it’s a lot bigger than I thought it would be. I’ll be back next summer.”

A line of people waited Wednesday at the fruit and vegetable stand run by Simmons Farm of Copenhagen. Purchasing a handful of cucumbers grown at the farm was Kimberlin S. Ponciano. The Watertown resident, who is employed as a nurse at Samaritan Medical Center, has been a loyal customer at the market.

“I usually buy cucumbers and squash to make salads,” the 31-year-old said. “I also like to buy bottles of wine from Coyote Moon.”

Ms. Ponciano is among a group of regular customers who buy fresh produce from Simmons Farm. Vendor Shari L. Simmons often sells out of fruits and vegetables, which fill baskets to the brim when the market opens at 6:30 a.m. Wednesdays. One new trend is that customers now are sending her text messages with their shopping lists to reserve their purchases in advance, she said.

On Wednesday, customers made large orders to stock their freezers with fresh produce for the winter.

“A lot of my customers would be happy if they could spend the entire year at the farmers market without having to go to the grocery store,” said Mrs. Simmons, 54. “They like it here because they know where their stuff comes from.”

Patrons who are natives of Southern states often have a penchant for sweet-tasting wines offered by Coyote Moon Vineyards, said Lori S. Randazzo, co-owner of the Clayton-based winery. Its wine called Fire Boat Red, made with Concord grapes, is especially popular at Coyote Moon, which has been a vendor at the market for four years.

“We call it ‘sweet nectar from the north country,’ because a lot of people from the South like the sweet wines and come here just to buy them,” Mrs. Randazzo said.

Thanks to a grant of about $10,000 from the state FreshConnect program secured this year by the Watertown chamber, special discounts for low-income families were offered this season. For every $5 purchase made with EBT cards, customers received a $2 discount coupon, said Georgia F. Gagnon, assistant market manager. Ms. Gagnon, who was hired by the chamber thanks to the FreshConnect grant, said the program aims to make fresh produce affordable for low-income families.

“We’ve gotten quite a few new customers who have asked about how this works,” she said. “We usually get large crowds here at the beginning of the month when people get their food stamps. Saving $8 in coupons when you spend $40” is a good incentive.

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