By Nancy Arsenault
“It’s a happening place. We’re looking at springtime here on a snowy winter day,” said Carolyn Cusolito-Tavares. She is just one of almost 55 vendors interacting with shoppers and food tasters at the Wayland Winter Farmer’s Market at Russell’s Garden Center on Saturday.
For ten weeks, this Winter Market attracts followers from Boston to Worcester, and vendors from all over Massachusetts, according to Market Manager Peg Mallet. She launched the program four years ago as a way to utilize the warm but empty greenhouses. Now, the Wayland Market is considered one of the busiest and best attended Winter Markets in the area, according to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.
The crowded parking lot and loud din of voices inside the greenhouse is the first sign that this is no common market. Situated in the aisles, amongst vibrant green lemon and orange trees, are vendors offering samples and chatting with customers as if they are long lost friends.
Those vendors all share something in common – most are producing their own products, made with local ingredients, and usually as a small family business. “When Mike cuts his carrots and gives you a sample, he’s the same guy who planted them, tended them and harvested them,” Mallet said of Mike Doctor of Winter Moon Roots of Hadley, Ma. His overflowing display featured an array of colorful and fresh root vegetables, some common and some not so common. Not sure what to buy? He slices a sample and tells how to prepare it. “The carrots taste like candy,” said one young taste tester who was anxiously awaiting a second helping.
As a true farmer’s market, according to Mallet, the Wayland market only offers seasonal fare – thus ensuring that products are from the area and not sourced elsewhere and just sold here. But there are some surprises. Shoppers will see a vast array of salad greens, grown by several vendors in greenhouses and hoop houses, and all local. Customers can scoop up their own leaves of fresh spinach and lettuce varieties or pick up bags already filled with a mix. The same is true for herbs grown under cover for the colder months.
Searching beyond vegetables, there are enough options at the Winter Market to produce an entire meal– with vendors doling out samples to everyone strolling through the greenhouses. A bakery from Newton holds center stage with an attendant bagging breads, pastries and baked goods to customers standing four and five deep. “People have a regular order with them and come here to pick it up,” said Mallet.
To her right, a family from Hull was selling coolers of fish and lobster, fresh off their boat. Carolyn Harold, assisted by her ten-year-old son, said that the Wayland market is by far the busiest and the best Winter Farmer’s Market in eastern Massachusetts. She regularly sells out of most of her catch, with the lobsters gone two hours after opening on Saturday.
A woman from Marblehead peddles homemade seafood chowder, filled with fish, scallops and generous chunks of lobster. Hot samples are given freely as she describes her inspiration to concoct something special to deal with smaller pieces or leftovers from her husband’s catch.
If you’re looking for meats, a farm from Barre, Ma has a chalkboard filled with the day’s cuts of fresh, grass-fed beef and pork, while a woman from Harvard offers lamb raised on her farm. “It’s a bit like going to town on Market Day,” said Mallet of the times when the head of a household would do the shopping by stopping in at the butcher, the baker and the produce vendor.
There is a transplanted New Yorker who moved to Vermont and created his own homemade pasta varieties, now offered fresh at the market. In the same area, a young man has bottled his prize winning pasta sauces. There are homemade pickles made by a couple in Brookline, three types of salsas from another, homemade potato chips of four different varieties.
A chemical engineer from Maynard, facing job loss through downsizing, started baking cookies and experimenting with recipes
at home. Today, she operates as The Cookie Lady, featuring a S’mores concoction, served up in small samples to an eager group of fans. There is a woman pushing samples of homemade cheeses from Vermont next to representatives of area wineries. Fans of Tower Root Beer, bottled in Somerville in the 1930s, can sample the drink and take bottles home, while chatting with the family members who resurrected the long lost recipe.
If all that makes you hungry, the Herb Lyceum of Groton serves up two hot soups, grilled cheese sandwiches and three types of pot pie, all of which are ready to eat at small tables under the tropical plants in the greenhouse. “People actually stay here for hours,” said Mallet of the slow moving crowds. Most were sampling something, and nearly all were buying, coming in with empty shopping bags and leaving with them full.
Outside the door as snowflakes fell, Vesta Mobile Pizza Company of Shirley served up wood-fired flatbread pizzas with toppings featuring locally sourced ingredients. Heading out into the cold, a line of hungry customers waited for pizzas that hit the counter 90 seconds after baking in the wood fired brass oven.
The Wayland Winter Farmer’s Market will continue on two more Saturdays, March 2 and March 9, 10am – 2pm. Russell’s Garden Center Winter Farmer’s Market is located on Rt. 20 in Wayland. For directions and more information, visit www.russellsgardencenter.com.