The Star-Herald

Presque Isle Farmers Market gearing up for spring opening

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — It takes a lot of love to sustain a local farmers market. And as Deena Albert Parks talks about her eight-year journey with the Presque Isle Farmers Market, it all comes back to the basics of providing healthy local foods and products to the community.

“We want people to get their groceries here,” Farmers Market Chairwoman Parks said. “I am very excited about seeing our customers … Come buy fresh, buy local.”

This year’s farmers market kicks off at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 22, coinciding with the Presque Isle Fiddlehead Festival, slated for the same day. 

The market takes SNAP, EBT and credit cards. And they also offer Maine Harvest Bucks which means SNAP or EBT patrons earn fresh fruit and vegetable vouchers for every dollar they spend at the market. 

“You’re doubling your benefits,” Parks said. “If you spend $10, you will get a fruit and vegetable voucher for $10.”

To get things rolling, Parks met with vendors via Zoom on Wednesday night, including several new ones for this year. There are currently 30 vendors and Parks divides them into food and non-food categories to make sure the majority are food-related.

“The nonfood has to be less than 40 percent,” she said. 

Phil Doak of Doak’s Maple Ridge Farm Store fixes a display of jellies and jams during the 2020 Presque Isle Farmers Market. (File: Melissa Lizotte | The Star-Herald)

The Presque Isle Farmers Market vendors come from as far as New Canada and Smyrna, said Parks who is also a farmer, selling packaged pork and vegetables from her farm, Chops Ahoy Farm in Woodland.

This year, food vendors include coffee and teas, kettlecorn, eggs, maple syrup, beef, pork poultry, potatoes and potato chips, vegetables, fruits, to name a few. And non-food vendors include, polymer clay, jewelry, pottery, tie dye shirts, bags, socks, soaps, wool, knife sharpening, items made from potato barrels. 

“I’m still looking for a mushroom vendor,” Parks said. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to have a huge variety of things.”

What’s most important before the market opens is for the vendors to get all their required state licenses. 

“The health inspectors are going to come through the market,” Parks said.

Depending on what products the vendor sells, there are nursery licenses for seedlings and plants, pesticide licenses, mobile vendor licenses, and all scales must be officially calibrated each year.

COVID-19 regulations pose new challenges as well.

“Farmers markets are considered essential, so we were open last year,” Parks said. “I follow the Department of Agriculture guidelines … although they are not out yet for this year.”

There is no sampling, no table cloths and vendors and shoppers must socially distance.

To achieve that last year, Parks put two tables together to create the six-foot distance. And to keep things simple, last year they opened with only food vendors and the nonfood vendors came after July.

“We have handwashing stations and we sanitize tables between customers,” she said. 

Parks wants to keep it simple because of COVID-19 restrictions, but she is still hoping to offer a few special events at market later in the summer.

“I was thinking of doing Christmas in July at the market,” she said. “I was thinking of the smells, sounds and tastes of Christmas.”

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