Mid-morning on a sunny September Sunday, the Rhinebeck Farmers’ Market is alive with the sights, tastes, and sounds of late-summer’s bounty: any vegetable you could desire, vibrant bouquets of flowers, apples and strawberries, hard cider and wine, fresh bread and baked goods, potted plants, and falafel for lunch.
The sounds of Cleoma’s Ghost, this week’s musicians, drift over to the market booth where volunteers sell a rainbow of Market T-shirts. There I find Linda Stanley, president of the market board, who spiritedly tells the story of the market’s 19-year history in making local farm-fresh foods accessible to the community.
In 1993, Linda was a member of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors when John Honey, a local resident and town councilman, sought her support to create a farmer’s market in Rhinebeck. At first, Linda admits, “I thought he was crazy.” But together they moved forward with the idea.
It was a “long process” Linda says. They gathered a board whose members met at the Beekman Arms every other week throughout that year to develop a vendor list, hire a market manager, and create rules and regulations. But the first question was the location of the market. Linda says, “We wanted to be right in the village… this parking lot was the perfect place.”
Georgia Dent, a board member and one of the original vendors, tells me that when the market first opened, the merchants in town felt threatened by it, but the board said “Give us one year.” After the first year, the merchants then had to change their operating hours to include Sunday mornings because of the crowds drawn in by the market.
To find the farmers to sell at the market, the board sought the help of Judy Schnaver at Cornell Cooperative Extension, who was “instrumental in getting our vendors… because most of us had no idea how to go about doing that,” Linda recalls.
The rules and regulations are what Linda calls “the backbone of the market. Local was, and is still, first and foremost our primary concern… Our mission, I believe, has stayed very, very close to our original mission statement.” The underlying task of the market is to “create a venue to promote Hudson Valley agricultural products and to enhance the social and economic vitality of the town and village.”
Prior to the advent of the market, farmer Kenny Migliorelli only sold produce in New York City. He says, “I thought it was great that we were going to have a local market.” He now delights in the “eclectic array of product” sold at the stands around him—the wide variety of products available to the customers.
The market tries to offer a diversity of organic, pesticide-free, and conventional produce options. And Georgia explains how the success of each market depends on the commitment of the vendors—“if everybody shows up it’s a strong market.” Linda noted that the market has “totally evolved, but remains very stable,” with “almost 100 percent return of vendors.”
The market board is composed of people from the community, people who are, Linda says, “enormously involved in the market, in the community.” Georgia notes how, as a testament to their commitment to the market, the board is made up of volunteers— “We’re there for real good reasons.” The representation of vendors on the board allows for the direct input of those who make up the market and, Georgia adds, “self-interest gets checked at the door.”
To add a spirit of leisurely celebration to this gathering of neighbors and tourists, musicians are invited to perform each week. Linda explains, “We are helping to sustain people’s livelihoods.”
Where does the market grow from here? It’s a hard question, since it was recently awarded Best Farmers’ Market in the Hudson Valley for the fifth year in a row by Hudson Valley Magazine. Cheryl Paff, market manager, says, “I’m happy where we are; we’re not the biggest, but we offer a unique variety… and we’re always trying to innovate.”
Linda adds that it is a “privilege to assist in maintaining the vibrancy of the village… the market has just been so rewarding for all of us.”
The gusto of the Rhinebeck market continues through the winter—with an indoor biweekly market that is now entering its third season. Cheryl notes that “last year it really took off.” This year, the winter market, held from 10am to 2pm every other Sunday in Rhinebeck Town Hall, will open Dec. 2.