For Swampscott, bringing back the farmers market launched last year was a no-brainer.
“Our experience last year was a success,” said Kim Fillenworth, co-manager of the market, “and we based it on what our vendors had to say at the end of the season. We went back to vendors and asked them: ‘Did you make any money? Did you feel you made enough money to qualify to come back?’”
The answer, Fillenworth said, was “yes.”
It usually is. Swampscott’s is only the newest of the farmers markets that have sprouted on the North Shore in recent years, providing consumers with fresh vegetables and fruit, cut flowers and a host of specialty products, from wines to bread to local seafood.
Most of the markets are opening right about now. Swampscott’s opened Sunday and Beverly’s on Monday. Two of the largest and most popular farmers markets also open this week — in Salem on Thursday and Marblehead on Saturday.
Market managers say they provide an economic opportunity for farmers, local businesses and those who work at them. They also provide a good time for all.
“It’s just convenient, and it’s fun,” said Igor Rudfeld of Swampscott, who was checking out his town’s farmers market on Sunday.
One of the stands he visited was Maitland Mountain Farm, a Salem farm that features Holly’s Spicy Pickles, jars of fresh horseradish and fresh-cut flowers. Julia Ginsburg, 18, a recent graduate of Swampscott High, found a summer job with the farm this year and will be staffing the farm’s booths in the Swampscott and Marblehead farmers markets.
“I shopped at it last year, but now I am working here,” Ginsburg said.
Maitland Mountain Farm’s Andy Varela said the farm also plans to be at markets in Salem and Gloucester.
“It seems like there is definitely more momentum with the farms, farmers markets in general and (Community Supported Agriculture programs),” Varela said.
“Especially Salem,” he said, “people are just more aware of the farmers market. I think they now rely on it in the season. It’s becoming, hopefully, more of a habit for people to come. So, it’s great.”
Bill Clark, whose Danvers family farm dates back many generations, said he has become a fan of farmers markets in recent years as they have caught on with young adults looking to buy local.
“They have really taken over big-time,” Clark said. A longtime devotee of farm stands as a way to sell produce, Clark said his thinking has changed in the last five years.
“Last year, we doubled our sales in farmers markets (during) 10 hours a week versus 64 hours a week at the farm stand, so it’s a no-brainer for me from a cost standpoint,” Clark said.
People can come to a farmers market and get a range of items, versus limited items at a farm stand.
“Everyone has their specialty, and everyone has their strengths, and they bring all their strengths together,” Clark said.
The trend is statewide. Last year, there were 255 summer farmers markets and 40 winter markets in Massachusetts, according to Amy Mahler, a spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Just four years earlier, in 2008, there were 167 summer markets and not a single winter market in operation.
Salem now has both a summer and winter market.
Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll will ring in the fifth season for the Salem Farmers Market, which is run by the city’s Main Streets program, tomorrow at 3 p.m. in Derby Square, the city’s historic marketplace.
The Salem Farmers Market has been growing steadily, with six new vendors this year, and a net gain of three vendors, for a total of 35.
“The numbers are astonishing in Salem,” said Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, “and I wish every community could get there.”
The beauty of a farmers market is that it not only supports local food growers and vendors and promotes good eating, “it’s also a way to support businesses,” he said. Many non-agricultural vendors also take booths at the farmers market, including makers of candles, soaps, jewelry and organic pet treats.
Estelle Rand, director of the Beverly Farmers Market, said Beverly’s market, which started the same year as Salem’s, has also seen significant growth, though it is not as large as Salem’s.
“I started off with four vendors, and now I have an average of 20,” Rand said.
The market, located in a city park opposite the Beverly depot, relies heavily on commuters streaming off trains, but sometimes she finds they’re just in a hurry to get home and not interested in shopping for veggies. But she has seen more families coming to the market in recent years.
This year, she plans to offer a food truck called The Happy Taco, which may lure more commuters to the vendors.
“I’m hoping the smell of food may help,” Rand said.
Swampscott market attracts budding baker
Two of the youngest entrepreneurs at the Swampscott Farmers Market on Sunday were Austin Sagan and his brother, Mason, both of Swampscott, who were selling baked goods at a booth called Austin's Cakes. While Mason sold his greeting cards that feature his photographs, Austin, 17, is the baker in the family who has started his own home baking business. It's their second year at the farmers market. "They do it all," said mom Julie Sagan, a local real estate agent who said her sons do all the baking and food prep. "They have a whole system as to what to do first, from the pies to the cookies," she said. Austin, a junior in high school who wants to study hospitality or business in college, got his certificates in safe food handling and allergen training. Their kitchen is inspected by the town. "It's an excellent way to showcase my products outside of the house," Austin said of the farmers market. Asked what they plan to do with the money earned, Mason said, "Put it back into the business."
North Shore Farmers Markets
Salem: Opens tomorrow at 3 p.m. in Derby Square. Runs Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m. through Oct. 4. salemfarmersmarket.org
Beverly: Opened Monday, June 10, at Veterans Memorial Park, corner of Rantoul Street and Railroad Avenue, near the commuter rail station. Runs Mondays from 3 to 7 p.m. beverlyfarmersmarket.org
Ipswich: Opens Saturday, July 13, in the Ebsco parking lot at Union and Estes streets. Runs Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Oct. 12.
Marblehead: Opens Saturday, June 15, at Marblehead Veterans Middle School, 217 Pleasant St. (enter from Vine Street). Runs Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. marbleheadfm.com
Middleton: Opens Wednesday, June 19, in the Angelica's Restaurant parking lot on South Main Street. Runs Wednesdays from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. through October. middletonfarmersmarket.org
Peabody: Opens Tuesday, July 16, at City Hall, corner of Lowell and Chestnut streets, 1 to 6 p.m.
Swampscott: Opened Sunday, June 9, at Swampscott High School. Runs Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. through October. swampscottfarmersmarket.org
Topsfield: Opens Friday, June 14, at the Perkins Lot on Route 1 and Central Street, with crafts and prepared foods. Runs Fridays from 2 to 6 p.m. until Sept. 27. The vegetable and locally grown produce market starts Saturday, July 6, and runs Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon through Sept. 28.