Watertown Farm & Craft Market ending on high note with diverse crowds

A crowd wanders through the Watertown Farm & Craft Market in fine weather Wednesday. Norm Johnston / Watertown Daily Times

A family from Seattle on Wednesday sampled flavors of tomato-garlic oil offered by Cheeky Monkey Foods, a Syracuse vendor that made its debut this season at the Watertown Farm & Craft Market.

“It’s different than anything I’ve ever tried before,” Leslie K. Martinis said. The delicacy comes from one of several vendors new this season at the popular Washington Street market, which will end its 37th season next Wednesday.

Vendors, meanwhile, said they have enjoyed business from a stream of new customers each week at the market, hosted by the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce. This season, the chamber expanded the number of vendor spaces from 53 to 60.

Amos Race, who runs Cheeky Monkey Foods with his wife, Leah, said he has been impressed by the diversity of customers drawn to the market because of its proximity to Fort Drum.

“It’s a good location near the base, because there’s a continuous supply of people circulating here,” Mr. Race said. “Normally at markets you get a splash at the beginning of the summer, and then it levels off. But here there’s been a constant influx of new customers.”

Illustrating that point was the Seattle family who sampled and bought tomato-garlic oil at Mr. Race’s booth on Wednesday. Mrs. Martinis was accompanied by her mother, Kathleen M. Herrin; daughter, Lauren K. Turner, whose husband is a soldier stationed at Fort Drum; and 1-year-old granddaughter, Kaydence L.

Mrs. Herrin, who shops at a farmers market north of Seattle on Whidbey Island, said the Watertown market is “much bigger and better” by comparison. “I’m seeing a lot of different things here,” she said.

Also praising the market on Wednesday was Marianne Santa, a resident of Jacksonville, Fla., who lives in Watertown with a friend during the spring and summer months. Ms. Santa said one of her favorite vendors is Grindstone Farm Organics of Pulaski, which sells an array of tomatoes, potatoes, squash, peppers, leafy greens, and blueberries when they are in season.

“I have to eat organic food because I got a new liver ten years ago,” said Ms. Santa, who has bought vegetables from the booth for the past four years.

The booth’s vendor, Kimberly Austin, said she believes overall sales of organic fruits and vegetables could be down from last year.

“Honestly, I think that people have been less willing to spend money this year,” she said. “We used to get a lot of wives from Fort Drum, but there haven’t been as many this year.”

Venditti Vineyards of Theresa made its debut as a vendor this season, selling a collection of Italian wines priced at $16 a bottle. Pamela A. Crumpton, an employee for the winery, said an average of 30 bottles were sold each Wednesday. The winery, owned by Frank C. Venditti, opened in the spring of 2012 and has six acres of vineyards.

“A lot of the customers are stay-at-home moms,” Ms. Crumpton said. “People give us compliments on our dry Riesling wine.”

She said the dry Riesing, which has no sugar after fermentation, complements Italian food well. “You don’t want to have a sweet wine with pasta,” she said.

This season’s market drew many customers who used food stamp benefits with EBT cards, said Marjorie A. LaVere, assistant market manager. The chamber hired Ms. LaVere in the spring after being awarded a $10,000 grant from the state FreshConnect program to promote locally grown food at the market. That funding was also used to buy a second EBT machine to keep pace with the increased redemption of food stamp benefits at the market, she said.

More than 100 customers have been using food stamp benefits at the market during the first Wednesday of each month as the monthly benefit is disbursed, Ms. LaVere said. Coupons for $2 were also rewarded to customers for every $5 spent using EBT cards.

“The program promotes healthy living for EBT customers who are able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and vendors are getting more business,” she said.


By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer