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More Than Just a Place for Produce: Sunday Farmers Market Launching in West Hartford

Blue Back Farmers' Market co-managers Scott Franklin and Mary Collins. Courtesy photo

Residents Mary Collins and Scott Franklin are teaming up to launch the ‘Blue Back Farmers’ Market’ as a space that will not only be a place to procure fresh produce but also a space for the community to gather.

By Ronni Newton

Fresh local produce and flowers are naturally the key ingredients in any farmers market, and while patrons can often find artwork and crafts, maybe some demonstrations, and even live music, the organizers of the Blue Back Farmers’ Market, which will launch on Father’s Day and take place every Sunday through late October, are looking for the market to also become a catalyst for greater community connections.

“Come for the food, stay for the fun” is the tagline, and Mary Collins, who will be co-managing the market with her husband, Scott Franklin, said the line-up of specialty events and cultural activities will be among the many reasons people will want to keep coming back to the Blue Back Farmers’ Market, and will want to linger long after buying their lettuce.

On day one the Blue Back Farmers’ Market will launch a “Story Exchange” program, inviting anyone over age 60 as well as veterans to share their personal stories. Collins, who by day is a professor of creative writing at Central Connecticut State University, said the exchange of stories, which will then be archived through the gerontology program at CCSU, “is a way for us to tap into seniors and bring them to the farmers market.”

As we come out of the pandemic, and with everything else that has been happening in the world, Collins said that story exchange is more powerful than ever, and a way for the younger generation to hear firsthand about experiences like the Great Depression, the day JFK was shot, Vietnam, or living through World War II.

Central launched its story exchange through the Gerontology Certificate Program and the Writing Minors (which Collins runs) programs during COVID, Collins said, as a way to show how people previously faced and dealt with adversity in their lives. The hour-long interviews are converted into short narratives, and classes use them as first-person material in discussions of social justice, LGBTQ rights, and other issues.

“You realize that people are resilient,” she said.

On the first day of the farmers market, anyone interested in telling their stories can sign up to participate, and there will be a sample interview conducted as well, Collins said.

There will be live acoustic music each Sunday, and different special events each week, including visits with authors and nutritionists, cooking and art demonstrations, and recycling and composting programs. Terry Walters, an award-winning author, proponent of clean eating, and James Beard finalist, will be on the calendar in early October, Collins said, and there will be a “dog days of summer” event in August.

“What sets our market apart is that visitors will be very engaged in the programs,” she said. “We want to create a ‘third space’ – not home, not work – where you can feel you’re part of the community.”

The Janeway family of Sweet Acre Farm in Lebanon, CT, a small, diversified, family farm that produces Certified Organic vegetables and cut flowers, will be one of the featured exhibitors at the new Blue Back Farmers’ Market starting on Sunday, June 19, 2022. Photo courtesy of Sweet Acre Farm

The Certified Connecticut Grown vendors will be top-notch, too. Peggy Hall, the longtime manager of the former farmers market at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, is a member of the Blue Back Farmers’ Market board and has been able to recruit many of the most highly-regarded farms in the state to participate, including Barden Farm, Clatter Ridge, George Hall Farm, Sub Edge, Sweet Acre, and Lyric Hill.

Collins said as “both foodies and community supporters,” she and Franklin prefer locally-sourced produce and products, and West Hartford’s central location is an ideal access point for Certified Connecticut Grown farmers and other vendors.

“We will be a 25-tent event on day one,” Collins said.

The existing West Hartford Farmers’ Market in the parking lot at Arapahoe and LaSalle will still operate on Saturdays as well as some weekdays, and Collins said they’re not looking to compete but rather to provide more opportunities for the community. She said that Hall, who currently lives in France, can walk out of her apartment there to find a farmers market every day of the week. “There’s plenty of room, and it will be a different day, a different feel,” Collins said.

Collins and Franklin first met while hosting “Wheel Fun Day” bicycle festival for the Town of West Hartford, and reconnected several years later when both were single. They married in 2019, and are committed to this new community project.

“We just wanted to do something good for the town,” said Franklin, a lawyer who previously helped found West Hartford Little League, raise funds for the Miracle League field, and launch the Underground teen center. Having worked on projects for young kids, children with special needs, and teens, the Blue Back Farmers’ Market is for the entire family, and “the culmination of all the things we’ve done over the years,” he said.

Franklin said that with Collins’ perspective as a teacher and writer, and his legal perspective, and their combined love of community building, they make a great team. Together with the high quality board of directors they have recruited, which includes Hall and several farmers who have been working on this project for the past year, they are hopeful that the market will quickly become a staple in the West Hartford community and a draw for people from throughout the state.

Father’s Day, June 19, will be the opening day for the Blue Back Farmers’ Market, with hours from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. in the West Hartford Town Hall parking lot. The location, which has plenty of free parking, will allow for expansion, and will also provide the farmers and other vendors easy access to their trucks.

A full calendar of activities can be found on the website www.bluebackfarmersmarket.org, and you can also read and subscribe to the monthly newsletter, “Gatherings.”

“Many of us have felt ‘closed for the season’ since the start of the pandemic which makes the opening of the first annual Blue Back Farmers’ Market perfect for June 2022,” the website states. It’s a perfect time for people to return to community life with exceptional vendors and engaging activities, Collins added.

Sponsorship opportunities ($100 to $5,000) remain, and more information is available on the website.

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