Bridgeport hub attracts family, friends to buy local, support vendors
Charleston Daily Mail
June 30, 2014
By SHAWNEE MORAN DAILY MAIL STAFF
You could easily mistake the multicolored tents, the sound of live music and the impressive amount of foot traffic going through the Charles Pointe community for a passing festival. But take a closer look and you'll find it's people mingling at the Bridgeport Farmers Market.
This market is a place for family and friends to come together and have a peaceful morning while supporting the community and receiving the benefits of buying locally. Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. chefs prepare brunch in the market with local, farm-fresh ingredients, artisans peddle their wares and farmers sell a myriad of healthy, fresh foods.
"We see people coming in with their family not only to shop and support the local people and be able to talk with the person who grew or produced their food, but it's a chance for the community to come together," said Debbie Workman, a market board member. "We also have a wellness aspect
to our market as well. We offer yoga when the weather permits and have people participate in that."
The farmers market in north-central West Virginia offers food from all over the state — this is a place where small farmers, protein vendors, bakers and artisans can develop or expand their business.
The market is growing substantially since their first season in July 2009, when they started out with six vendors in front of Bridgeport High School. In just five years, it has grown to include more than
30 vendors, and Workman said on average they have nearly 1,000 people visiting on any given Sunday. She said people have to plan to get to the market early if they want to get their hands on fast selling times, such as strawberries, before they run out.
"(This year on) May 18 was our biggest day ever, which is incredible because local foods aren't in peak season until late July or early September. I think its just going to be crazy (in July)," Workman said. "I can anticipate we are going to add 15 vendors at peak season."
One special thing about Bridgeport's farmers market is that vendors don't have to pay a fee to set up a tent or a booth. Because of this, the market sees a lot of new businesses setting up to sell their handcrafted jewelry, goat milk lotions, cutting bowls and utensils, soy candles and even cupcakes.
"It's been a great opportunity. We've met a lot of people and the vendors have been great helping us, supporting us and giving us advice. It's the support that's really helped us with our success here," said Kaycee Crislip, owner of My Little Cupcake, which is new to participating in the market.
This stay-at-home mom has been at the farmer's market since opening day, May 18, and has had an enormous amount of support from friends, family and repeat customers. Crislip said on the first day she set up her tent she sold 200 cupcakes, and now, over a month later, she comes to the market
with more than 500 cupcakes.
"We have been increasing 50 cupcakes a week and have been selling out every week," Crislip said. "It's a great opportunity. We're hoping to have a storefront one day, but right now this is working really well for us," she said.
Since the farmers market is open to vendors across the state, several vendors travel to sell their goods. Among those people are Mollie Toppe and husband John Jennings, owners of Jennings Brae Bank Farm. They travel every week from New Martinsville, where they proudly sell pasture-raised beef, pork, eggs and naturally raised vegetables such as green tomatoes, radishes, dill and lettuce.
"This is our second season here. We're just starting our farm so this is the second year in full operation. Last year we didn't have much produce and this year we have a lot more so we're coming here every week — we love this market," she said. "We have an acre and a half in production now and we'd like to see that grow more."
Toppe said it is just her and her husband working on the farm, so they are limited on how much work they can do and how much they can grow. But she said because the produce is so popular at the market they would like to expand and bring more.
"I'm just excited to see how many people are excited about buying local food and organic food and supporting the market. It's a wonderful market — the managers here do a lot of hard work to make it successful and the farmers and producers really appreciate that," she said.
For Kim and Keith Finger, owners of Mountain Momma Organics, the Bridgeport Farmers Market is more than just a place to sell their goods — it's a place for them to educate people about eating healthier and eliminating harmful chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides in their diet.
"We know there are some challenges with good nutrition in the state. Kim and I are floored about the low-quality food choices at some of the stores here. We're happy to be out here teaching people about good, organic food choices — it doesn't have to cost a lot more, maybe a little bit more, but it's a lot better for you," Finger said. "We are really happy to be able to share our fresh, organic foods with people."
These organic farmers moved to MacFarlan from Bethlehem, Pa., to get away from the hectic life and started selling their chemical-free produce. After a while they moved into making baked goods and offers a wide variety of products including infused honeys with all-organic ingredients, to bean soups, to their famous gluten-free or sugar-free granola bars.
"This is our second year here and boy, this is a fantastic farmers market. We started out in the Ritchie County farmers market with just a little table — we didn't even have a tent when we started," Finger said. "We started here last year at the beginning of the year (because) we wanted to expand out and try something new. We just loved the Bridgeport Farmers Market. This is just a great venue and a lot of fun for people."
The Bridgeport Farmers Market is preparing for their fourth annual Country Road Cook-off, which will be July 27. In this competition, amateur chefs must use food from the market to make traditional recipes and are judged by a panel to determine the winner. For more information about this event, or for more information about the market, call 304-669-4340 or visit www.connect- bridgeport.com/connect.cfm?section=Farmers-Market.
Contact writer Shawnee Moran at 304-348-4872 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shawneemoran22.