Saturday morning, 8 a.m. The birds sing as the morning sun shines down on those dedicated runners jogging up and down Duke of Gloucester Street and Merchants Square is lined with tents and vendors selling everything from apples and berries to honey and bison. Welcome to the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market in Merchants Square.
Founded in 2002 as a collaboration between Colonial Williamsburg, the City of Williamsburg and the Merchants Square Association, the market has grown into a weekly event, operating twice weekly in the summertime. Over 50 registered vendors flock to DoG Street every week to sell their wares to dedicated customers. This year, it was voted by consumers as American Farmland Trust’s Number One Farmer’s Market (mid-size).
“It’s been a nice way for the customers to let the vendors know how important they are,” market manager Libbey Oliver said. “They feel like it is a part of our community; they have excellent relationships one on one with the vendors.”
“We love to have the students come in, and we have a lot of loyal Williamsburg people,” Becky Latane of Blenheim Organic Gardens said. “I know a lot of customers come from Yorktown [and] Newport News.”
Latane and her family have come to the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market every Saturday since the market’s opening to sell their organically raised assortment of vegetables, herbs and flowers.
“It’s really a lovely spot. We’ve gotten some really loyal customers [who] would be hard to give up, some have even become friends,” Latane said. “It gives the people of Williamsburg a place other than a grocery store to shop.”
The market also serves as an alternative for students. Right off campus and open until noon on Saturdays, the market is a convenient stop for students who want to enjoy a freshly baked pie or fruit that does not come from a dining hall.
“I like being able to purchase local produce,” Judi Scalfani ’11, who goes to the Farmer’s Market every few weeks, said.
Other students agreed that the availability of produce grown in the region contributes to the popularity of the market.
“I like that it’s fresh food that supports the local economy,” Lauren Edmons ’11 said.
Students with an eye for sustainability look to the market as a greener alternative to shopping at a grocery store not just for fruits and vegetables, but for meat as well.
“Sustainable and organic produce has become fairly well known, but on the animal end we need to do better, because on that end you’re conserving land and resources and the consumer’s health,” Latane said.
Students are not only patrons of the market, but they serve as volunteers and interns as well, helping to keep the farmer’s market running smoothly.
“We appreciate the fact that the students are such a part of the community and come over and buy from us, and we hope to see more,” Oliver said.
Even non-locals have added considerably to the feel of the market, from visitors who stop by on their weekend travels to tourists staying for a longer duration.
“Tourists would be the least number of people that come, but it’s fun when they do,” Latane said.
From the beginning, building a market that would serve the community and help it develop agriculturally has been an integral part of the market’s mission, beyond simply selling goods.
“Our farmers, we’ve seen them grow,” Oliver said. “Not just their displays at our market, [but] their whole farms as well.”
Everything sold at the market is produced by the vendors selling it, something that ensures pride in the products being sold, as well as reduces the steps from the producer to consumer.
“It’s really nice to be in a market where the market manager is making sure that we’re all growing or making what we’re selling,” Latane said.
The farmer’s market takes pride in being a resource for the community aside from simply providing fresh produce, meat and other items. Helping customers fully utilize the products of the market has been a part of the market since its inception.
“We do educational things at the market all the time,” Oliver said. “We have chefs that demonstrate and help people cook with things found in the market.”
Local artists often display work, and the Master Gardeners of James City and Williamsburg present on topics such as composting and herbs. The market’s educational efforts extend beyond culinary pursuits, which reinforce the feeling of community. The Farmer’s Market makes Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary feel a bit more like a community, instead of simply a town or a college.
“The live music, [is] not a big feature; it’s not something that’s heard all over the market – just something to add atmosphere and something to make people want to stay and chat a little,” Oliver said.
The Williamsburg Farmer’s Market is open every Saturday from April 3 to Oct. 30 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and on select Saturdays for the duration of the year from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.