GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 14, 2012

Middle Street fest harvests local spirit

By Joann Mackenzie Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Nicole Bogin makes the whole business of event organizing sound easy as apple pie — or pumpkin pie, or pecan pie.

Or, for that matter, any of the other freshly baked holiday pies that will be flying off the shelves this Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Gloucester’s second annual Cape Ann Farmers Thanksgiving Harvest Market, along with the winter squashes, root veggies, artisanal cheeses and breads and jams and honeys.

Bogin is, literally, becoming a “seasoned” pro at organizing such events. It’s second nature to her now to reel off the names of all 20 local farmers and vendors who’ll be trucking in their produce to Middle Street’s Unitarian Universalist Church at the crack of dawn this Saturday.

This time last November, Bogin, who’s been the manager and driving force behind the market since it pitched its first tents on Harbor Loop five summers ago, didn’t sound so relaxed. It was the first time out for the Thanksgiving market —a sort of “trial run”— and there was no telling how it would go.

“It went great,” says Bogin. So great, says Bogin, that this year, the Thanksgiving Harvest Market will be followed on Dec. 22nd, by a first, and bound to be bountiful, Farmers Market “Holiday Fare,” also to be held at Middle Street’s historic “UU.”

Things haven’t always gone so great for the farmers market. If ever there was proof of the maxim “location, location, location,” its first three summer locations were it. Both spots — originally Harbor Loop, followed by a move to the I-4, C-2 lot— seemed ideal in theory, but were plagued with traffic and parking issues. Then, finally, came the 2011 move to what Bogin now calls home — Stage Fort Park.

With its sparkling sea vistas, salt air, rolling lawns, picnic and music areas, and plenty of free parking, Stage Fort Park not only proved a permanent home, but an instant home run for the Thursday afternoon weekly markets, attracting peak season crowds of 1,500 to 2,000 and becoming a major tourism destination for the City of Gloucester.

So toward the end of last summer, having already successfully extended the market’s season into fall, the market’s 17 member advisory committee started wondering how to make the magic last a little longer. No sooner had the notion of a Thanksgiving Harvest market hit the table than Committee member Joe-Ann Hart — also on the board of the Unitarian-Universalist Church — secured the ideal venue: the church’s spacious downstairs meeting room.

“It was,” says Bogin, “a perfect fit.”

With its rich history — its great steeple bell was struck by Paul Revere and Sons — the 205 year old “UU” is arguably Gloucester’s greatest architectural gem: one of several on Middle Street, including the recently restored historic Sargent House Museum, and, right next door to the “UU, “St John’s Episcopal Church, home to a magnificent, hand crafted J.B. Fisk organ.

Last year, St John’s annual fall Country Cupboard Fair was due to fall on the same day as the first Farmers Thanksgiving Market at the “UU”, and this gave newly arrived St John’s parishioner and Middle Street admirer, Alfred Browne Jr., an idea.

“Why not use these two side-by-side events to launch an even bigger event that would celebrate all of Middle Street’s historical treasure houses?” he said.

Browne, a former high profile marketing executive in New York and Boston, got down to work, and “The Middle Street Harvest Festival” was born. Now officially sponsored by BankGloucester and in its second year, the festival runs throughout the day “in conjunction with” the Farmers Thanksgiving Harvest Market and the Country Cupboard Fair, essentially “opening the historic doors of Middle Street to the public” for events, tours, concerts, kids crafts, and more.

While not working officially as partners, Bogin and Browne are united in spirit.

“It’s all about community,” says Bogin, “not just for the foodies or the yuppies, or the middle class or any class or demographic, but just everyone, crossing all the boundaries, just totally positive energy, bringing everyone together.”

For Browne, it’s also about the Grace Center, which will be the recipient of funds raised by a 2:30 p.m. performance at the “UU” — “Celtic Music of the Sea & Season,” — a Harvest for Grace Concert.

Browne, who refuses to use the word “homeless” says the monies raised by the concert will go to an “emergency cash fund” for “guests” of the Grace Center to aid with such things as job hunting necessities.

“You’d be amazed,” he says, “to hear some of our guests’ stories. Some have simply been aged out of the job market.”

Likewise, Bogin says she, too, has been amazed by many of the people who’ve been reduced to using EBT and SNAP at the Farmers Market.

The market awards a $5 cash bonus to EBT users for a day’s shopping, she adds.

For a family that may be running short on cash this Thanksgiving, that’s something for which to really give thanks.

Joann Mackenzie can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3457, or at jomackenzie@gloucestertimes.com.

Celebrating the harvest What: Cape Ann Farmers Thanksgiving Harvest Market When: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Where: Unitarian Universalist Church, Middle Street What: Middle Street Harvest Festival When: Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Where: Unitarian Universalist Church, Middle Street. What: Country Cupboard Fair When, Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Where: St. John's Episcopal Church, Middle Street. Schedule: Noon to 2 p.m. -- Tours and books sale at Sargent House Museum; Noon to 2 p.m. -- Tours at Temple Ahavat Achim, with music by David Wesson at 1:30 p.m. 10 a.m. to noon -- Sawyer Free Library's harvest story time and crafts in the children's library, and tour of the Saunders House murals from noon to 2 p.m. 10:30 to 1:30 p.m. - Gloucester Firehouse kids' tours. Noon to 2 p.m. -- Gloucester YMCA face painting,. 2:30 p.m. -- The Harvest for Grace Concert, "Celtic Music of the Sea & Season," at the Unitarian Universalist Church. 3 p.m. -- Cape Ann Museum's "The Fishing Strike of 1917" with David Rich.