By Marjorie Nesin
---- — A fresh strawberry aroma filled the air and gravel stirred under shoes and dog paws as shoppers crunched along the path between tents manned by farmers and artisans at Stage Fort Park Thursday afternoon.
The occasion was the opening of the Cape Ann Farmers Market for a seventh season and its third at Stage Fort, and the sunny location at the edge of the park created a pristine backdrop for the market and a festive location for kicking off summer’s eve, with a live band humming out tunes.
Paul Cohan finished setting up his tent just a few minutes after the market opened at 3 p.m. and soon visitors were already leaning in to check out his packaged smoked fish and nab a sample from a fish shaped tray. This year marks Cohan’s first year selling his Sasquatch Smokehouse fish at the farmers market. He will also debut a stand at the Rockport farmers market Saturday.
“I love just getting to talk to people and putting the personal touch on it,” Cohan said.
Another vendor with a bipersonality, Alexander Thompson, worked his Ma’s Brands pickles stand nearby. He popped the seal on a glass jar of bread and butter pickles, and jiggled the slices into a sample bowl, explaining all the while their merit.
“See the little orange bits?” he asked holding up a jar. “That’s the fresh turmeric. It gives it the flavor and the glowing color.”
Thompson’s great grandmother had passed her pickle recipe down to his grandma, then down to his grandma who raised him. The trick, he says, is using fresh turmeric rather than the dried ingredient mixed into most retail brands. Thompson only set up shop at the farmers market part time last year, but this year he will shell out his pickles each Thursday.
“This year I’ve bucked up and bought (a vending spot) at every one,” Thompson said. “It’s selling so well.”
Two children, one six and the other seven, ran toward a tent of knitted goods, carrying an oversize disc of bread they had just picked out from the A & J King Artisan Bakers’s stand. Their mothers, a pair of sisters, sat at spinning wheels dancing their feet on the pedals to a silent rhythm. The women, Amanda Cook and Elizabeth Grammas, sell goods from their businesses Salty Yarn and Lizzy Knits.
“It’s one of the best ways to spend an afternoon,” said Cook, as she put the last stitches on a pair of true blue baby booties.
Cook and her sister learned to create mittens, hats, jewelry, bags and more from wool after taking classes as adults. They sell only in person rather than online, usually at markets like the farmers market, and open a pop-up store called Present at different vacant Main Street shops each winter.
“We like the face-to-face contact with customers,” Cook said. “But really what we mean is when we sit at the computer, the kids bug us.”
By mid-afternoon the path had become comfortable crowded, with people milling around swapping buyers’ advice, pointing out the best free samples and munching on guacamole, Lebanese flat breads and baked goods.
Over the hubbub, Rockport’s Seaview Farm owner Ken Lane chatted with a customer about the values of grass fed beef and the characteristics of various beef cuts.
Lane, in his first year at the farmers market, began selling the products of his farm last August. His farmers market table offered fresh eggs, jam, cuts of beef, honey and more.
“We’re sort of just getting rolling,” Lane said. “This market has a great reputation. We’ve heard that it was good, and it will definitely add to our retail.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.