MILLINOCKET, Maine — Millinocket residents and those from surrounding towns will have a chance to peruse locally grown foods and Maine-made goods at a new farmers market launching Saturday, June 3.
The Penobscot County town had an informal market that started about eight years ago, but it fizzled after the organizer moved away, resident Barbara Riddle-Dvorak said. The AmeriCorps volunteer for Age-Friendly Millinocket has made the upcoming farmers market, which will run from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, the focus of her service.
Riddle-Dvorak is a New Yorker who lived in Florida before moving to Maine in March 2020. She has visited farmers markets around the country and seen the vibrancy they bring to a place, which is something Millinocket would benefit from, she said.
Those involved in the effort see the farmers market as a way to expand access to fresh, locally grown produce and other goods, especially for low-income residents. Having an event planned every Saturday from June 3 through Sept. 16 also gives people something to look forward to, which is needed in a town that has struggled to revive its economy since its paper mill shuttered in 2008.
Farmers markets bring value in terms of economic and community development, said Jimmy DeBiasi, Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets executive director. Vendors and start-ups wanting to sell their products have a chance to promote their brand, and patrons are also drawn to surrounding businesses, he said.
“There’s a positive buzz going around about this farmers market,” Town Manager Peter Jamieson said. “It will certainly entice traffic through our downtown corridor and may trickle back from the farmers market into local businesses and restaurants that are on our main drag.”
The market will be held at Veterans Memorial Park on Penobscot Avenue. The town hopes to revamp the street near it by reconstructing sidewalks and adding street lights, among other improvements because infrastructure is deteriorating, Jamieson said. Officials requested just under $800,000 in congressionally directed funding to complete the project.
Eight vendors have signed up for the market, including an Amish farm in Smyrna and Chiron Farms, based in Chester and established last year. There are others planning to sell baked goods and bread, honey, candles, crocheted items and more, said Riddle-Dvorak, who wants to attract a few more vendors.
Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness, which serves four federally recognized tribes in Maine, is also participating. The organization enthusiastically agreed to get involved because a farmers market aligns with its values of inclusion, celebration and wellness, said Lisa Sockabasin, co-CEO and a citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk.
“Nothing is definitive yet, but the creativity and dreaming has already begun,” she said. Ideas include cooking demonstrations and connections to traditional medicines used in teas and smudge. “Our hope is to showcase who we are as Wabanaki people through our food and culture.”
The organization has a greenhouse in Millinocket, called the Gathering Place, where it grows produce for its mobile food pantry. Traditional medicines are also grown on the property.
The Wabanaki people are eager to share their culture with non-Indigenous neighbors in a community space, Sockabasin said, and she thinks people will enjoy it.
The market will also feature resource tables for area organizations that want to publicize their work. Riddle-Dvorak eventually wants to include food trucks.
“We really see it as something that will help rejuvenate the downtown, and it’s so obvious that it’s needed,” Riddle-Dvorak said.
The market is a formal effort, with vendors needing approval to participate and paying a fee for the summer. They need a peddler’s or victualer’s license through the town to sell homegrown and prepared foods. Bangor Savings Bank donated two gift cards vendors who register by May 13 are eligible to win and reusable shopping bags to the effort.
Riddle-Dvorak is working with the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets to implement various programs, like Maine Harvest Bucks, which offer nutrition incentives to low-income patrons.
DeBiasi sees the farmers market as a food access point for locals experiencing poverty.
More than 650 households in Millinocket and East Millinocket receive food dollars via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, he said. By shopping at the farmers market, they will be able to earn bonus dollars to buy more fruits and vegetables.
Those interested in an application to become a vendor at the market should call Riddle-Dvorak at 917-279-5890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications are also available at the town office.