BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Bill Nolan thinks a farmers market here could be just as successful, and just as much fun, as the one in neighboring Salem — especially considering the town has several working farms and a long, rich agricultural history.
“I think a farmers market makes sense in Danvers,” Nolan said.
So last week Nolan approached selectmen on behalf of the Rotary Club of Danvers about creating a farmers market at the Hobart Street parking lot just off the downtown. While selectmen were receptive, they wanted to hear more from downtown businesses.
What they’re hearing, however, is some concern that a farmers market would compete not only with downtown businesses but with the farmstands that local farmers already operate in town.
On Tuesday morning Nolan went before the Downtown Improvement Committee, which could not come to a consensus on the proposal, according to committee chairman C.R. Lyons. There were concerns that the Hobart Street parking lot is already full, and that a farmers market there could cut into parking and sales at the Cherry Street Fish Market, which invested heavily to help the town buy the lot from the MBTA several years ago.
Now the proposed location of the farmers market has changed, to the parking lot next to Town Hall, a long, narrow lot that runs between Elm and Cherry streets.
With farmers markets well-established in Salem, Beverly, Peabody, Marblehead, Swampscott, Ipswich, Topsfield and Middleton, it would seem Danvers would be ripe for one.
And it appears to be a popular idea. A Facebook page for the proposed market has drawn 1,350 “likes.” Organizers have a petition with more than 300 signatures from people who want one in town.
Nolan, a local chiropractor, says a market would provide access to fresh farm products, a central location where farmers could sell their produce, an social gathering place and community event, and a place where residents’ dollars would be spent on locally grown produce.
“Wouldn’t this be a great idea to keep the money in our community?” he asked selectmen. The proposed market would take place on Wednesdays, 4 to 7 p.m., from mid-June to mid-October.
But Selectman Bill Clark, a farmer who sells produce at farmers markets in nearby communities, expressed reservations that it is getting late in the year to start one.
“I hope you have not bitten off more than you can chew,” said Clark. He noted there is a scarcity of farms in the region to supply all the farmers markets that are ongoing now.
Clark says he is neutral as to whether Danvers should have a farmers market. As a potential vendor, he cannot vote on the proposal.
Lyons said that during Tuesday’s Downtown Improvement Committee meeting, the idea did not gain traction, and organizers have to do more within the downtown business community.
Organizers had failed to approach the owners of Danvers Fresh Market, a local grocery store that sells fresh produce on Elm Street, Lyons noted. There are also two florists downtown, Novello’s and Curran Brothers, whose businesses could be impacted if a farmers market comes downtown.
“We couldn’t really answer ... is this good for the downtown,” Lyons said.
“If three hours a week is competition to a business,” Nolan retorted, “they have more issues than they are saying.”
With so many farms in Danvers, Lyons said some at the meeting said it may not make sense to have a farmers market in town.
“Everything they want to bring to the farmers’ market, we have within our community,” he said.
Farmers and potential vendors in town include Connors Farm, Folly Hill Farm, Cherry Street Fish Market (which participates in farmers markets in other communities), Clark Farm, Gibney Gardens and Kane’s Flower World. Curran’s also grows flowers.
Farmer Bob Connors said he wishes farmers market organizers well, but he would probably not participate.
“I’d like to think I’m meeting all the needs for fresh produce,” he said, noting he has a large farmstand on Valley Road.
“They are everywhere,” Connors said about farmers’ markets on the North Shore. “I’m all for promoting agriculture, whether it’s me or another farmer. I think it’s a great service to the community.”
Peter Gibney, owner of Gibney Gardens and chairman of the town’s Agricultural Commission, said he would gladly participate. Gibney said Wednesdays would work for him, as he attends the Salem market on Thursday afternoons and the Marblehead market on Saturday mornings.
“It’s almost free advertising, as far as I can see,” said Gibney, whose farm on the Danvers/Peabody line includes 25,000 square feet of greenhouses.
“I’m in favor of it,” Gibney said, “and it’s in town. The Danvers farmers should be in it and support it.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.