LACONIA — After 44 years of offering fresh produce, meat and baked goods, the Laconia Farmers Market failed to open this summer.
Michelle Descoteaux, of Still Seeking Farm in Gilmanton, was unable to continue organizing the market, which billed itself as the state’s oldest.
“I have a full-time job off the farm and then a farm to run as well,” she said. “We’re trying to semi-retire as well.”
She said she trained a replacement, and then that person decided not to go forward in the position.
Descoteaux said she had been a vendor in the market for 11 years and ran it for six.
“For the last three years or so, vendor inquiries declined,” she said. “If we had vendors, they would be around weekly in June and July, but come August and September, they would go to old home days and county fairs, instead.
“Last year, we had only four vendors, which is pretty bad.
“It’s definitely a shame, and I hated to do this, but for mental sanity and my health, I had to stop.”
She said they didn’t have much money to advertise and relied on social media to get the word out about the market, which operated out of the City Hall parking lot.
The market also faced competition from farm stands and other open-air markets, she said.
She said the market participated in the federal nutrition program formerly known as food stamps. It accepted benefits cards and, through a government grant, was able to match dollar-for-dollar the benefit, so people in need could leave with extra food.
A Thursday farmer’s market in the city also ended about two years ago.
“I would love to see someone start up a new farmers market,” she said. “Laconia is deserving and definitely in need of one. I hope someone does it.”
Steve Taylor, who served for 25 years as New Hampshire’s commissioner of agriculture, said managing these markets can require support.
“In Lebanon, the recreation department runs it,” he said. “In Claremont, the community development directors run it.
“They face challenges. I guess it gets back to the community. Does the City Council value having a farmers market as part of civic life and take some steps to support it?”
He said there is value in having a farmers market.
“It’s like having a swimming pool, or a tennis court,” Taylor said. “It attracts people. Gets them out of the house to a community gathering.”
Such markets also face competition from grocery stores, many of which now provide local produce.
Also, farmers have found other ways to market their products that don’t require them to sit in a parking lot or village green for several hours. Many have their own farm stands or sell wholesale.
Rick DeMark, former executive director of North Country Resource Conservation and Development, said farmers sometimes find it difficult to participate in farmers markets.
“There is the time it takes to prepare and come back and often they don’t realize suitable returns,” he said. “More and more farmers are looking for and trying to secure commercial markets or sell to aggregating organizations or cooperatives. It’s almost impossible for a small farm to survive strictly on farmers markets.”
Karen Barker, who participated in the Laconia Farmers Market as part of a cooperative sales group, said these markets provide a good opportunity for farmers to meet the public, find out about demand for products and publicize their offerings. But she said that, from a dollars and cents standpoint, it doesn’t always pencil out for farmers to participate.
“In some large cities with huge populations, farmers can do really well because there are so many customers, but that’s not the case here,” she said.
On the other hand, farmers markets, particularly those in smaller communities, provide a social outlet where neighbor meets neighbor. They linger and chat, enjoying summer days. Often, a musical group is playing in the background.
And the quality of the produce is usually top notch.
“We worked really hard to keep it really fresh and make it look good,” Barker said. “We had a number of organic vendors who banded together and offered a nice variety.
“You didn’t go in there and find kale or Swiss chard as limp as a flag on a breezeless day.”
If you go
Summertime Lakes Region farmers markets:
Open Air Farmers Market of New Hampton, Townhouse Road at Townhouse Building, Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon.
Gilford Farmers Market, 88 Belknap Mountain Road. Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon.
Plymouth Community Farmers’ Market, 263 Highland St., Thursdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Wolfeboro Area Farmers Market, 233 Main St., Thursdays, 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Canterbury Community Farmers Market, 9 Center Road, Wednesdays, 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Franklin Farmers Market, Marceau Park on Central Street, Tuesdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.