MANCHESTER, NH – Some Thursdays, even with the best of intentions, I fail to make it to the downtown Manchester Community Market.
Appointments. Distractions. Being in the wrong place at the right time.
That’s why I made sure that nothing would get between me and what’s left of the fresh local farm market season this week. I parked as always in the big lot next to Victory Park, no charge, and made my way across the grass, appreciating the new landscaping that has elevated the look and feel of what was already a beautiful respite from the city’s sharper edges.
Although the number of vendor tents have dwindled with the waning season, what I found was well worth the journey – my resolution was to buy something from each and every booth, and I did.
First stop was Chantenay Patisserie & Bakery, where I picked up a quartet of round rye dinner rolls and two gourmet cookies. From there I made my way around – a pair of large beets and a handful of tiny hot peppers from Fresh Start Farms; a bag of honey crisp apples from Hackleboro Orchards; a pound of freshly-milled wheat flour from The Root Seller; six ears of sweet corn from Country Dreams Farm; a little bear filled with raw blueberry honey (because the bees only feasted on blueberry bushes) from DJ’s Natural Honey; and a dozen eggs in various shades of tan from Julie’s Happy Hens.
With just a few more booths to go I opted to take part 1 of my haul to the trunk – my eggs would be in jeopardy otherwise from all the produce juggling. I returned from my car for produce shopping: the sequel, and found my way to the New Hampshire Community Seafood spot, where I couldn’t say no to the fresh pollock. I’m told is as good as any fish out there.
My last stop was Brookford Farms, where I probably over-indulged. But one sample of the watermelon radish and I was smitten, so I grabbed one of those and a second bunch of beets – golden ones this time, plus two sweet potatoes, a slab of bacon, a quart of milk, a tub of butter and three jars of canned goods – sauerkraut, beet sauerkraut and jalepeño garlic relish.
Yes, maybe I went a little overboard, considering we have mostly an empty nest these days. In a way, I felt like I had to make up for all the Thursdays I’d missed. But it was also my pleasure to invest in New Hampshire’s harvest – even with its rocky soil and short growing season, this is a land of plenty.
And above all else, I wanted to support the farmers who have battled through a tough year – in particular, the schizophrenic weather patterns leading into spring that foiled fruit farmers, including Harry and Linda Weiser of Hackleboro Orchards. They lost all their stone fruit – the plums, the peaches, the apricots.
“Apples were small this year,” said Harry Weiser. “But the watermelon had a particularly good flavor – lack of rain probably concentrated the sugar.”
He is uncertain how the summer drought will effect next year’s crops.
“Fruit trees go into survival mode when there’s not enough water. Apples were dropping early – I have plum trees that lost all their leaves, and I’m not sure if they’ll come back,” Weiser said.
Drema and Patrick Cady of Country Dreams Farms had several bushels of sweet corn and other produce this week. But in weeks past, they told me how they’d been fighting off hungry deer and other wildlife to protect their crops, indicating that the drought has taken its toll on the animals’ food sources, too.
All their efforts, against nature’s obstacles, paid off. Their tables were brimming with baskets of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and all things leafy green.
In addition to his colorful display of veggies, Luke Mahoney of Brookford Farm had a truckload of boxed vegetables for local CSA pick-ups, and an array of fresh cheeses – varieties of cheddar, feta, cottage, Brie, gouda, Camembert, quark.
“Local chefs love our feta and camembert,” said Mahoney, when I asked which was the best. He also told me how the aging process for the sweet potatoes relieves them of much of their starch, rendering them super sweet and delectable.
There are two weeks remaining until the official close of our community market. Wendy Stevens, who took over management of the market this year, said overall it was a success. Yes, there were some who told her they didn’t like the move, from Concord Street to the park. Change, in this case, is part of the overall renaissance of Manchester’s summer market. Vendors told me how much better the grassy knoll and tree-shaded park was for their wares, and their spirits.
This was a year of transition and lessons learned, Stevens told me. She’s looking forward to another growing season as she continues to work to build a community around the fruits of our local farm economy.