Name: Dalziel Lewis

Age: 37

Title: Co-owner with husband John Strieff

Business: Dig Deep Farm in South China, which is also a member of the Farmers’ Market at Mill Park, Augusta

About: Dig Deep Farm is a certified organic grower of diversified vegetables and small fruit; the Farmers’ Market at Mill Park brings together a variety of vendors for a summer market and a winter market in Augusta.

Website: millparkmarket.com

What’s your biggest challenge right now? 

As a vegetable grower, it’s been a cool, damp spring. But for the market, it’s mostly just reminding people that we’re there in Mill Park in the month of May.

We go through the winter, but it’s still a shift. The winter market is at 70 State St., this is the building by the Lithgow Library, the old Elim church. We have a lot more traffic in the summer, definitely. I don’t know why that is. We definitely have chosen the spot we have to be more available to our customers within walking distance.

The amount of vendors in Augusta, we scale back to about a third of the number of vendors in the winter.

Reaching out is a constant project of our vendor groups. Each winter, we have a series of meetings to come up with a plan for the season. This year, my job is to write press releases as often as possible. We have a Facebook page and website for the market as well. We have a limited budget so we look for as many free or low-cost options as possible. It’s really making do with what you have.

What has been the biggest help for the market? 

Working with the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets has been huge for the growth of the farmer’s market. They are grant-funded, and they have programs through their organization. We have one of the biggst Maine Harvest Bucks programs in the state at our market. It’s available to people who receive EBT benefits (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides low income families with funds through an electronic debit transfer or EBT card). They can match their EBT dollars at the market with vouchers that are good for fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market. it’s called the Maine Harvest Bucks Program. They have helped us a lot with direct mailing and overall promotion of that program. Also, MaineGeneral Health has been a big supporter of our program, that’s how we are able to run our SNAP program.

What’s your biggest concern?

We usually are concerned with the variety that we have to offer at our market. We want to sustain our customer base and we always hope that it will grow a little bit through the variety of vendors we have. We’ve had quite a nice range of new applicants this year, so I think there’ll be a good variety this season. So this year, it’s that it stays viable for all the vendors. So it’s kind of both, that the customers will keep coming throughout the season but also it will work for the vendors that will make the market happen.

It can be a challenge as a group to determined what the demand will be be, in terms of what applicants will take part and the old membership. Some people are visionary about the market and other people have a different sense of the reality of the size of the market — the size of the market being the number of people who truly go to farmer’s markets.

We have locally raised beef and pork. We have a local mushroom grower, and a body care product maker. We have a baker and a goat dairy and we have all kinds of veggies. And we have jams and jellies. We will have a fish person, eggs, microgreens and pea shoots. And there will be yogurt, milk and cheese. And some prepared foods. Some folks from the local Iraqi community are going to join us, so we’ll have some Iraqi food, and there will also be honey, and various salads and sandwiches.

What’s the biggest misconception about farmers’ markets that the group had in getting it going? 

The folks we brought in a few years ago, I think they are starting to learn that if you want to stay with it you have to learn the balance, however you can make that work. I don’t know if it’s a misconception or a novice’s enthusiasm. I think that’s a good thing because you need that adrenaline to get your business going and over time when you can sustain that energy or motivation you can learn what the group needs over time as well. It’s an important skill, I think, to be able to keep at it in this kind of scenario. It’s a lot easier than a store front in a lot of ways. We all have a lot of overhead in our own homes or home bases.

Everyone has to be willing to learn how to see each other’s strengths and work with each other’s differences or accept them. There is a notion of compromise in the group dynamic, especially when it’s not your family, where a lot of cultures are merging.

The farmer’s market has been going for more than a decade. In the summer, on average we have 14 to 17 vendors at different points. The outdoor market is Tuesdays, May 7 through October, from 2-6 p.m. The winter market is also held on Tuesdays.

Where will the farmers’ market be in five years? 

I think we’ve become sustainable in the last three years. I hope our market can become more of a destination in the next five years, especially in our effort to go year-round. We seem to have a good amount of loyalty, so I think increasing our customer base — maybe people would be motivated to visit us from other cities and towns, accessing more of the local communities.


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