MassDevelopment

Crisp fall weather, bountiful harvest means successful Devens Farmers Market

November 15, 2019 : Nashoba Valley Voice, by M.E. Jones


DEVENS – The weather forecast looked iffy for the first-ever Devens Farmers Market but the predicted rain held off.

Dark clouds and bright sunshine prevailed.

Customers came.

It had been a long shot, absent the kind of advance notice that generally precedes Mass Development-organized events at Devens. Added late to the fall calendar, it was a tight squeeze to pull it off, according to Neil Angus, of the Devens Enterprise Commission.

Chatting with a reporter at MassDevelopment headquarters recently, Angus plugged the latest addition to the Devens event roster and traced its genesis.

Amid all the growth in Devens since the state agency took charge of the former military base more than 20 years ago, including many on-site businesses and a small residential community, it’s been noted there’s no place here to buy fresh, healthful food, which is so much in demand these days, Angus said.

Targeting “what’s lacking,” in the commercial line-up and always on the lookout for community- building ideas, staff members zeroed in on the popular outdoor farmer’s market trend. But when they reached out to event organizers in local communities, there was interest, he said, but no takers.

“Nobody had enough bandwidth to do it,” Angus said. Maybe next year. Then, serendipity struck.

Spotting an outdoor market in Boston one day, Angus approached the vendor. It was Dick’s Market Garden, a second-generation family business with a 260 acre farm on Northfield Road in Lunenburg.

This time, the answer was yes.

The farmer’s market would be held on Devens Common on Oct. 30.

Maybe it will become an annual event. The debut was promising, with participants still setting up as early birds arrived.

Devens-based enterprises and organizations laid out displays touting wares and services, including Loaves and Fishes food pantry, Little Leaf Farms and Dragon Fly Wellness Center, a collaborative that houses several small businesses under one roof, including yoga classes, a grief counselor and a cafe.

The turnout included visitors, area workers and locals.

Devens resident Raylene Miller nibbled a sample of Little Leaf Farms’ lettuce, but she’s no stranger to the product, she said. Hydroponically grown inside a sprawling facility and packaged by automation rather than human hands, it’s sold in many area grocery stores. “It’s the best lettuce ever,” Miller said.

Some shoppers came over from a nearby local hotel, where they were attending a conference.

Others worked there and came on their lunch break; a couple came from the Army base next door.

At the Dragon Fly booth, Georgette Pulsifer, owner of the Natural Cafe, offered free samples of her nut-free, frosted cupcakes, chocolate and vanilla. Formerly located on Main Street in Ayer, where Union Coffee is now, she had to pull up stakes when the building was sold, Pulsifer said. But it turned out to be a good move and the cafe is doing well in its new home, she said.

The featured vendor’s wooden farm stand was abundantly stocked and the layout looked enticing.

Colorful squashes; parsnips, bright orange carrots; yams, several potato varieties, some just dug up that morning. Apples, cucumbers, leafy greens, bunches of deep green broccoli, Brussels sprouts on thick stalks; plump, ripe tomatoes.

Invited by Dick’s Market Garden workers Nick Wright and John Mara to “over-stuff” a 50-pound tote for $30, some did. Others browsed, choosing per/pound prices for an array of farm fresh edibles.

Organizers were all smiles as they ambled around the bustling common, envisioning future scenes like this, more so as word gets around.

Devens representatives on scene included Recreation Director Kim Walsh, Marketing Director Brenda Doherty, Angus and his boss at DEC, Peter Lowitt.

Would Dick’s come again? Mara said it depends on sales. “If this works out well, we’ll be back next year, so tell your friends,” he said.