Our Tenth, Yes, Tenth Summer Season!

To all of our loyal customers and vendors, welcome back for the Tenth Season of the Bridgeport Farmers Market. As I sit here and look at the word “tenth” I am filled with a mix of pride and shock. Back in July of 2009 I would have never dreamed that we would still be here doing everything we do week-in and week-out. Honestly, it never even entered my mind. All I wanted to do that morning was get rid of a hang-over and get that last damn tent set up so I could run to Sheetz for aspirin and coffee. No, we didn’t even have a coffee vendor back then!

But what we did have was a bunch of folks that had a vision and were committed to seeing it thru and then sitting back and letting it become what it would become. And I think it’s safe to say it become something greater than any one of those folks could have imagined while hauling tents, tables, signs, and squash-car racing tracks to and from the home-ec room of Bridgeport High School.

farmermarket_ribbon_edited-1
L-R: Co-Founder Deb Workman, Co-Founder Anne Hart, Then-Mayor Jim Christie, The Queen of the Benedum Festival, Original Board Member Bobby Samples, and then-Market Vice-President Tim Brady at the Opening Day Ribbon Cutting in July, 2009.

Throughout the course of this season we will be presenting the insights of several of those folks, some who are still involved with the Market and some who have moved on to other things. Today I am happy to present the perspective of one Tim Brady, who at that time was the Executive Director of the Greater Bridgeport Convention and Visitors Bureau and is now VP of Sales for the Charleston CVB. Tim was the first city “official” to see the value of what these folks were trying to do. Interspersed with Tim’s post are quotes from our co-founder, Anne Hart, owner of Provence Market in Bridgeport. I thank both of them for taking the time to provide their thoughts.

All of the pictures you see here were taken during that first season in front of BHS by Michael Brown of Provence Market.

In this space next week you will find the first post by our new Let’s Get Fresh editor, Heidi Nawrocki, and our official photographer, Daniel Raines. If you’ve been following us for the past couple of seasons you will recognize Heidi as our recurring guest blogger. This year she has agreed to step up and take over for me full-time. And I will become the “recurring guest blogger”. Thanks, Heidi! I also want to thank all the folks at Connect-Bridgeport for giving us our original home and continuing to post our blogs even after we started our own site. And thanks to all of you for reading.

Take it away, Tim!

“We want to start a farmers market in Bridgeport.”

As the Bridgeport Farmers Market embarks upon its tenth season I can honestly say this was one sentence that would, without exaggeration, change the City of Bridgeport.

Debbie Workman and Anne Hart said those words to me in the Benedum Civic Center.  I had never given much thought to the idea.  More correctly, I had never given any thought to the idea.  They approached me with such conviction, though, that I was on board from the beginning.

“…this is what we want to do, this is how much money we need and who is going to give it to us?”  – Anne Hart, Co-Founder

Why would the Convention & Visitors Bureau support this?  It doesn’t fill hotel rooms.  It doesn’t bring thousands of people to town in one fell swoop.  It’s not the usual thing that a destination marketing organization would put their weight behind.  While those statements may be true, I immediately saw the value.

DSC_1773
One of a few things still with us, our original A-frame welcome sign!

My interest was in placemaking.  I knew from the very start that the Bridgeport Farmers Market could become a social and economic hub.  It could help to create a sense of place.  There would be immense long-term value.

So, we created a farmers market.

The beginnings were humble.  There were meetings during which we hammered out the details of where and when we would have this market.  Sundays seemed to be a logical choice, based upon the schedules of other markets in the region.  There was a bit of initial pushback, but our strategy of creating hours of operation that allowed people to come either before or after church has proved to be successful.

“Another thing – we didn’t have any farmers…..  incredible.  I remember CD Cole coming into my restaurant on a busy weekend night and sayin “I hear you are doing a farmers market and I have some produce I would like to show you”.  He took me outside to the back of his truck to show me some of the things he grew.  We had a farmer and a new friend.  I didn’t know CD before then.” – Anne Hart, Co-Founder

DSC_1835
The tall guy in the center is the famous CD Cole.  Bob’s Note: One of my great memories of the Market’s early days is CD slipping me a $20 bill every week and instructing me to make a T&L run for hot dogs for all the volunteers and vendors. No, we didn’t have food vendors back then, either. What a guy!

Location was another story.  Several locations were discussed.  Some were more popular than others.  For a brief period of time it seemed that the market might be held in the city lot across from the Civic Center.  Then someone had the idea to approach Bridgeport High School Principal Mark DeFazio.  That was a move that changed the course of the BFM’s history.

 

The lot in front of the high school was perfect.  It was large enough to allow for growth, it was situated along a well-traveled street, there was water and power inside the building, along with restrooms.  From the very beginning, Mark was supportive.  He was so supportive that he entrusted us with keys to the building so that we could access the building on Sunday mornings.

“Our biggest challenge was to get new farmers to do ours in addition to the one or others they were already doing.” – Anne Hart, Co-Founder

The first season was a blur.  We bought tables and tents.  We rented a storage unit and bought a trailer with which to haul everything in.  There were musicians (some good, some not so good) that came out to play.  We had children’s activities. There were queens and squash cars and rain and wind and hangovers (Editor’s note: All my fault! Sorry, Dude.) and lots of coffee.  Obviously, we had farmers.  And we had more patrons than I think any of us thought that we’d have.

 

When I think back, though, on that first season what I remember the most is the laughter.  Our intrepid band of volunteers laughed a lot.  A lot.  But, in the rearview mirror, I realize that in the midst of the laughter we made something great.

DSC_1829
One of the original six, Dave Reynolds of Dave’s Greenhouse.

I go back to my original point about why the CVB supported the idea of a farmers market.  Placemaking.  In that first year we literally created a place.  We created a place where people could come together.  We created a place where things happened.  If we want people to visit our cities and towns, we have to make sure they have things to do.  And we have to make sure that these things are sustainable.

Businesses have incubated, grown and flourished because of the BFM.    What started out in home kitchens and tents have become brick and mortar.  Business and social relationships have emerged from the BFM.  Deals have been made because of the BFM.

DSC_1830
Another of the original six, Larry Gardner of Gardner Farms.

 

“Highlight for me is how quickly the community grasped what we were doing – ON  A SUNDAY!!!!!!”

“And the the race for the Sourdough Bread…..” – Anne Hart, Co-Founder

In the tourism world we talk a lot about growth.  We talk a lot about economic impact.  We talk a lot about infrastructure development.  Each and every Sunday in Bridgeport, WV, from 10am to 2pm, you can see these concepts in vivid color, living and breathing in our community.  And it all started with a very simple sentence.

“We want to start a farmers market in Bridgeport.”

-Tim Brady, VP of Sales, Charleston CVB

DSC_1812
What a difference ten years make. Top: opening day crowd, 2009. Below: Opening Day 2017

 

Until Next Week, Stay Fresh!

2 thoughts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s