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Seasoned manager launches winter farmers' market



FARMERSMARKET
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Joan OíConnor, shown with her faithful companion, Finn, will be bringing a winter farmersí market to Tilton, beginning this weekend, where people can purchase numerous fresh and locally produced foods each Saturday through March. (Courtesy) (click for larger version)
January 04, 2012
TILTON — One of the highlights of summer will soon become a highlight of winter, with the opening of the new Tilton Winter Farmer's Market this weekend.

Under the management of seasoned market manager Joan O'Connor, 35 agriculturalists and food vendors will gather at the former Agway building on Route 3 in Tilton to offer their wares each Saturday through the winter months.

"These are all foods. It's not a flea market or a craft fair. These are serious farmers who make their living this way," said O'Connor.

She became involved in farmers' markets more than ten years ago as vendor, selling Joan's Famous Composting Worms. As a worm farmer, she came to know many others who made their living through selling what they raised, and eventually decided she wanted to run a market her way. Her initial venture was to become manager of the downtown farmers' market in Manchester, and she also founded the Henniker Farmers' Market in her hometown.

From there, O'Connor proposed opening a winter market in Concord in 2010, which she ran for two years. When she learned last July she would need a new location this winter, however, the search was on to find a suitable location.

"Finding the right place is important because it's not just about the space, it's also the ambiance," O'Connor said.

When she heard the former Agway building in Tilton was vacant, she made a trip to Tilton to pitch her idea to owner Dennis Gaudet of AutoServ, who had just purchased the property.

"He saw the potential, too, and has been fabulous to work with in getting this underway," she said.

One attraction to the site was the greenhouse, which brings natural light into the building. There is an open main floor for many booths, as well as an upper level, giving her 12,000 square feet to fill with local foods and farm products. Plenty of parking, an overflow lot provided by neighboring Lowe's as well as handicapped access, made the location ideal.

"I can't say enough about the Gaudet family and Roland Gamelin, the director of operations for AutoServ. Every time I've hit a snag, they've had a solution for me," said O'Connor.

Since sealing a three-month rental deal on the building, she has been busy gathering vendors. Many people she has dealt with in past farmers' markets jumped on board, and she was also able to attract more vendors from the Lakes Region to join in on the endeavor. Surowiec Farm will offer winter storage crops and winter greens grown in their Sanbornton greenhouses. Granite Ledge Coffee of Canterbury will have their own fresh roasted coffee while Apple of My Eye Designs in Ashland will be selling their own gourmet loose-leaf tea. Heart Song Farm of Gilmanton is bringing goat milk and meat while Huckins Farm of New Hampton will have raw milk, fresh eggs and Jersey Cream Soaps they produce. On the sweet side, Rolling in the Dough of Tilton and Sweet Treat Greetings of Northfield will have something for everyone in the way of candies, whoopee pies and other delectable items.

"Everything sold at the market will have its source listed, and the vendors all have product liability insurance. These people are professional, above board and serious vendors," said O'Connor.

Seafood, garlic, meats, cheese, apples and cider, granola, honey, dog treats and so much more, along with Joan's Famous Composting Worms and her small potted plants, are just a few of the wide variety of items for sale each week.

"I can't wait because this is all the things I like to buy — fresh foods and products from right here around us," O'Connor said.

Many of the foods are organically grown, and customers will have the opportunity to speak to the farmers and learn about the foods they are buying and how they were produced.

In addition to vendors, some entertainment will also be a part of the Saturday fun each week. A Celtic group will be performing over the first few weeks, and a jazz duo will follow, she said. Canterbury woodworker Dave Emerson will also bring his Tools for Kids hands-on exhibit for boys and girls to explore.

"We'll also have an information booth where people can learn more on sourcing other local foods throughout the year, and places where they can go and tour the farms; things like that," said O'Connor.

She herself gives lectures on worm composting, and has worked with several conservation groups. O'Connor also works for eight certified organic farms as a Community Supported Agriculture site manager, where people can buy shares in the farms and receive fresh grown produce throughout the growing seasons.

"Winter farmers' markets are a new trend now. They give people greater accessibility to a number of products, all under one roof at a time of year they wouldn't normally find them, and they also help farmers pay their bills in the winter," she said.

By locating her newest venture near the busy Exit 20 off Interstate 93, O'Connor and AutoServ, which is sponsoring the market, hope it will draw more visitors to town who might then go on to discover the many great businesses in downtown Tilton.

The market will be held from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. every Saturday, January through March, at 67 E. Main St. in Tilton. For a complete list of vendors or information and an application for a booth rental, please visit www.tiltonwinterfarmersmarket.com.

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