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A farmers’ market grown from seed

Silverbrook Farm in Dartmouth is one of the produce vendors at the Bridgewater farmers’ market that started this summer. The organizers make sure the wares are local and natural. Silverbrook Farm in Dartmouth is one of the produce vendors at the Bridgewater farmers’ market that started this summer. The organizers make sure the wares are local and natural. (Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe)
By Andrea Pyenson
Globe Correspondent / September 23, 2009

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BRIDGEWATER - In a torrential downpour in July, a farmers’ market opened in a parking lot adjacent to the commuter rail station here. Four vendors were on hand.

“I was a little nervous. The town wouldn’t even let us put up signs,’’ recalls Stacey Daley of Golden Rule Farm, an organic farm located in Middleborough and one of the market’s original farmers. She was amazed, she says, when people not only showed up, but lingered. “It felt like we were filling a void that people really desired.’’

Since that day, Bridgewater farmers’ market has grown to 12 vendors and has attracted residents from East and West Bridgewater, as well as Brockton, Halifax, and Middleborough. The market came about and grew so fast because of Arthur Lizie and Amy Braga. Lizie, an associate professor at Bridgewater State College, is on the advisory board of the school’s Center for Sustainability, which sponsors the market. Braga, a photographer and fellow Bridgewater resident, serves as market manager. Both are parents of young children and wanted to see farmers come into their town and establish a place where neighbors would meet. Now every Tuesday afternoon, the market is hopping with children, dogs, bikes, and strollers. There’s even a face painter and a nursery.

Bridgewater, which has about 25,000 residents, supports one supermarket with a small organic section and few restaurants and cafes. There are no bakeries and no coffee shops, says Braga, and therefore “no central gathering spots.’’ Before this summer, the nearest farmers’ markets were in Brockton and Middleborough, both about 10 miles away.

Lizie says he and Braga talked informally for a couple of years about a creating a market, but started working in earnest on their project last fall. They looked at potential sites, researched and spoke to vendors, examined best practices of other markets, created their own set of guidelines, and worked with the town to get the requisite permits.

“As much as it is about what we do on the ground, a lot of organizing has been done online,’’ Lizie says. On Facebook, the Bridgewater Mass Farmers Market has roughly 300 members; organizers maintain a 150-member e-mail list.

“It’s been important to both Arthur and me to make sure everything we bring into the market is local and natural,’’ says Braga. To that end, nearly all the vendors are from the southeastern part of the state; one is from Rhode Island. The diversity of offerings is impressive. There are three produce vendors; three bakeries selling artisan breads (some gluten free), cookies, quiches, galettes, muffins, tarts, and other sweets; a granola company; an organic caterer; locally made soap, honey, and cheese; and lotions and creams made with lavender grown nearby.

Every week, Rockin K, a Bridgewater cafe that focuses on seasonal ingredients, sets up a booth. Two seafood vendors signed up initially, but both were unreliable. Market founders are hoping to find a replacement, as well as purveyors of meat and fresh eggs.

On a recent late summer afternoon, Mallory White, a Bridgewater State student, made the roughly half-hour trip from her home in Wrentham.

“I usually go to [farmers’ markets] in my area, but I’ve been trying to get to this one for a long time,’’ she says. “This is such a good market, compared to some others, with flowers, cookies, a bakery. I like it when I can bring $3 and still make out like a bandit.’’ White is trying to convert her mother from shopping only at traditional supermarkets. Today she has selected an eggplant to bring home as part of her ongoing campaign. “I’ll try to explain that it tastes so good because it’s local.’’

Kerry Campbell, visiting for the second time, is going home with a loaf of bread and some vegetables. “It’s a great asset for the town,’’ she says. Her son, Brian, 11 “and three-quarters,’’ has just sampled “chickpea salad that rocks!’’ from Mazie’s Organic Catering. “I just liked everything,’’ he adds.

“It’s been a great market,’’ says vendor Cyndi Jacobs of The Best Damn Granola Co., located in Dartmouth. “It’s great to see one so vibrant.’’ Jacobs, who also makes soap, sells her products at markets in Dartmouth, Hingham, and Braintree.

The Bridgewater location next to the commuter rail station is ideal for many customers who stop on their way home. Daley, of Golden Rule Farm, held items for customers who requested something.

Earlier this month, Golden Rule owner Frank Albani decided to stop coming to the market. The cold, rainy weather had such an adverse affect on his crops, he says, that there “was not enough produce to keep going.’’ Tomatoes are a quarter of his revenue and they were affected by the blight. For the rest of the season, Silverbrook Farm of Dartmouth will be Bridgewater’s third produce vendor.

The market founders are learning as they go, but the success of the project is evident. “I lived in Philadelphia for six years and had access to the Italian Market before I moved here in 2000,’’ says Lizie.

“There was no market here. Nine years later, here it is.’’

Bridgewater farmers’ market, corner of Spring and Broad streets, Tuesdays 3-6:30 p.m. through October.