PEPPERELL -- There may be three feet of fresh snow on the ground, but the Agricultural Advisory Board is thinking ahead to the spring. The board has begun the process of planning for the 2013 farmers market.
At their Feb. 7 meeting, the board tentatively set the market dates and times for every Saturday from June 15 to Oct. 5, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the town field in Pepperell. They plan to reserve it for several additional Saturdays in case they choose to extend the event. Vendors can rent a table for $10 a week or $100 for the entire season.
The board is compiling a list of various types of vendors to solicit. In addition to the normal fare of fruits, vegetables, baked goods and a craft vendor, they hope to expand the variety, including possibly engaging a brewery. Allowing breweries to sell at farmers markets was recently made legal.
Despite the fact that the market has been an annual event for more than half a decade, the Agriculture Advisory Board continues to face a reoccurring problem.
"One of the issues we've noticed is that even though it's been five or six years, still a lot of people don't know it exists," said Todd Russell.
In an effort to amp up awareness, the board sent out surveys to the public about what they would like to see from the market. One piece of feedback they received was an idea to organize a winter farmers market.
Russell said the issue with a winter market is that it's not all that lucrative. As it is, he said, markets tend to thrive the most in June; as the season progresses, it continues to get slower. A winter farmers market on a good day pulls in about 35 percent of the amount earned during a summer market, said Russell.
Local farmer Tony Beattie asked about the risk and expense involved in organizing a winter market.
"There's not much risk, there just isn't much product. People come to the market and there's nothing to buy," he said.
As a rule, the board allows each vendor to provide one item that is not of their own production.
Beattie asked if the rule could be changed.
Russell said that would be something the entire board would need to examine, and board member Jim Friend was absent from the meeting. He brought up the question of the implications of changing the rule.
"The whole idea is that it's supposed to be local. What is the carbon footprint if we start bringing (other items) in? At what point are we starting to challenge the whole local idea?" speculated Russell.
The board discussed trying a winter market for a day to gauge the results.
"My only fear is if we do start, we've got to have something to offer the public. If they start coming and it's not good, they'll stop coming and that's bad for us," Russell said.
The board is also making up signs to advertise the farmers market. They discussed adding several events, including a Christmas in July, pumpkin painting and a tractor day. They will be bringing back live music and will be selling T-shirts for $15 at each market day.
"We need to do some more things down there to continue to be proactive," said Russell.
Luckily, the board has plenty of time to prepare.
"We're way ahead of schedule, which is good," said Russell.
The board's next meeting is scheduled for March 14 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.