SKOWHEGAN — Sarah Smith, owner of Grassland Organic Farm in Skowhegan, will be among the featured speakers Jan. 29 for the ninth annual Maine Farmers’ Market Convention on the Alfond Campus at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield.

Market vendors, managers and volunteers from across the state are expected to convene for the conference, the theme of which is “Taking the Lead,” according to Leigh Hallet, executive director of the host Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, headquartered in Pittsfield. The Alfond campus is located in the Hinckley section of the college on U.S. Route 201.

Participants can choose from a dozen sessions throughout the day, focusing on how to cultivate collaborative markets and how to strategize for growth. The deadline for registration is Thursday.

Smith, the former manager of the Skowhegan Farmers’ Market, will be among the presenters. Smith is scheduled to discuss marketing and advertising ideas for reaching new customers and keeping the regulars coming back.

“Learn about real examples of strategies that have worked and ways to establish what will work best for your customer base,” Hallet said in promotional material. Smith will be joined at the lectern by Clara Moore of the Portland Farmers’ Market.

Hallet said the convention drew more than 100 visitors last year at Maple Hill Inn in Hallowell, where the convention had been held for the past three years. She said they are hoping to include volunteers this year from KVCC’s sustainable agriculture course of studies.

The convention is an opportunity for people interested in Maine’s farmers markets to come together for inspiration, guidance and networking opportunities, she said. The cost is $65 for members or volunteers of a farmers market and $75 for nonmembers of a farmers market, Hallet said.

The keynote address at the convention, titled “Resurgent Farmers’ Markets: Impacts Around the U.S. and Prospects for Maine,” will be given by Dr. Alfonso Morales, professor of Urban and Regional Planning and director of the Metrics and Indicators for Impact project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Morales will discuss contemporary trends for farmers markets and how Maine markets might respond to some of these trends. The talk will be based on his nationally and internationally recognized research on street vendors and marketplaces, as well as his recent work in support of the federation’s data collection efforts in Maine.

There will be 12 sessions taking place throughout the day, covering topics such as market design, food safety, specialty food trends, applying for federal grants, youth and family programming, partnering with municipalities, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program outreach and marketing techniques.

Additionally, this year an inspector from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will be on hand to inspect scales all day at $5 per scale. Farmers and others wishing to apply to accept SNAP benefits or update their license with the USDA may do so on site. There will also be a WIC farmer authorization class offered.

The Skowhegan Farmers’ Market, now in its winter location at Boynton’s Greenhouse on Madison Avenue, is offering incentives through the Maine Harvest Bucks program. The Skowhegan Farmers’ Market is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays every month.

During the summer, the market is held outdoors at the Somerset Gristmill.

With Maine Harvest Bucks, SNAP/EBT shoppers receive bonus local fruits and vegetables, stretching limited benefits much further.

Maine Harvest Bucks are known as “nutrition incentives,” which increase the value of federal nutrition assistance dollars through SNAP/EBT spent at participating farmers markets, community supported agriculture farms and retail outlets that sell local produce.

“For example,” said current market manager Carrie Tessier of Tessiers Farm in Skowhegan, “if you shopped at the Skowhegan Farmers’ Market and bought $25 dollars worth of bread, cheese, milk, coffee or meat, you would then receive $25 dollars in vouchers for fruit and vegetables that can be redeemed with a vendor at the market.”

Emily Buswell, a program assistant to the farmers market federation, said “there’s a whole network” of farmers markets across Maine that offer the Maine Harvest Bucks program.

“Last summer, more than 30 farmers markets participated in (the program), and 10 of those markets have continued their program through the winter,” Buswell said. “A large amount of farmers markets in Maine only run through the summer.”

For more information or to register, call 207-487-7114 or email [email protected] Online registration is also available at mainefarmersmarkets.org.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow


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