In 2013, the market has experienced a growth spurt.
The Saturday morning market at the bottom of Spring Street is entering the home stretch of its most successful season in years, and there are still five chances for area residents to stock up on fresh produce and selected crafts between now and the final market of the year Oct. 12.
One of the market's organizers met last week with the town's Agricultural Commisssion to discuss efforts to breath new life into the 33-year-old event.
"In general, it's been a very successful summer season," Ann Hogeland told the commissioners. "We've gotten excellent feedback on the direction we're going in terms of new vendors, the atmosphere in general, the activities and so forth."
Earlier this year, Commission Chairwoman Beth Phelps, who serves with Hogeland on the market's steering committee, said the market would renew the emphasis on farmers. In recent years, the market began to be perceived as, perhaps, too craft heavy.
Last Saturday, there were all manner of vegetables, fruits and meats for sale, but the market still had quilts from Serendipity Quilt Designs and stoneware from Hogeland's Berkshire Mountain Pottery. There were also fresh-cut flowers from the Quimby's and fresh-baked treats from Babycakes.
"We have new vendors still coming into the market," Hogeland said. "We're getting applications on a weekly basis."
One of the new vendors last Saturday was Tom Pizzuto of Shaker Hill Orchard in Hancock, who embodied the market's diversity by offering not only fresh-picked apples and plums but also homemmade birdhouses.
Pizzuto said he was happy with the foot traffic he saw at the market, even though attendance actually was down a little as the market entered its post-Labor Day phase and lost some of the summer tourists who helped fill the venue during July and August.
Hogeland said it has been a challenge for organizers to spread the word about the market given their modest budget, but they have found creative, low-cost avenues like a weekly e-mailed newsletter, which is available through the market's website, www.williamstownfarmersmarket.org
. Phelps has been keeping the market's Facebook page
updated, and area businesses and the Chamber of Commerce's Spring Street information booth have allowed the market to post signage.
"Even the CSAs have been getting the word out about us," Hogeland said, referring to the town's two community supported agriculture farms: Cricket Creek and Caretaker. "There are many things the market offers that complement the offerings at the CSA."
Cricket Creek, in fact, is a vendor at the market, offering its award-winning cheeses.
Among the innovations the market used this year to draw customers were art projects for children and background music by a rotating assortment of visiting performers.
On Labor Day weekend, the Williamstown Farmers Market began reaching out to the broader community by collecting for the Williamstown Food Pantry. Market vendors contribute unsold produce at the end of the morning, and visitors can — and do — purchase food at the market specifically to donate to the pantry.
More than two dozen vendors have participated in the market this summer, and it averages about 20 vendors per week, of whom 15 are engaged in an agricultural pursuit, ranging from Kim Wells' East Mountain Farm offering locally raised meat to Phelps' Sweet Brook Farm with maple syrup.
Though the steering committee is yet to formally survey the vendors about the success of the market from a sales standpoint, the anecdotal evidence is encourage, Hogeland said.
"I think vendors feel their personal sals have increased even with many more choices for customers — sometimes with overlapping products between two vendors or more," she said. "We've seen a very welcoming attitude in general, even with longstanding vendors and new vendors offering the same types of produce."
After the market's 2013 edition winds down next month, the work will begin on finding a way to continue to grow next spring.
"Our aim is to try to have some way to assess whether we've reached our objectives and what we might do differently next year," Hogeland said.