More than 1000 people turned out last Saturday to sample the offerings of local food producers during the latest debut of Farm Fresh Rhode Island's winter market, which will continue to be staged every Saturday from 11 am-2 pm through late April at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket.
The response was gratifying for proponents, demonstrating the kind of support that could eventually help establish a year-round fresh market in the style of Seattle's Pike Place. "We left in wonderful awe of the support of Rhode Islanders for local food and local businesses," says Noah Fulmer, executive director of Farm Fresh (farmfreshri.org), a nonprofit established to promote local food. "I think people have really made that connection"
In the latest inaugural session of the winter market, which was staged last year at AS220, some 30 vendors offered a variety of local produced fruits and vegetables, cheese, baked goods, seafood, prepared foods, and more.
Fulmer says the success of the winter market couldn't have been imagined when Farm Fresh was established four years ago. The group has since fostered discussion between interested parties, and new initiatives, like Rhode Island Royal Potatoes, a cooperative of five growers, an effort for farmers and artisan food producers to share delivery routes to a network of local chefs.
At the same time, driving forward the cause of local food faces some serious obstacles.
"In the past few decades of food centralization, we've lost a lot of our infrastructure to process food here in Rhode Island," notes Fulmer. "So there is no place for Rhode Island farmers to go to produce sauerkraut or pickles or tomato salsa, or create any of the value-added products. We know from the success of Rhody Fresh that consumers would love to buy more foods produced right here in RI, and it's not that farmers wouldn't produce it if they easily could . . .
"So Farm Fresh has prioritized the creation of a rentable community kitchen — we're calling the project Open Kitchen — as an important next step if we're going to expand local food production and ensure the viability of farming in Rhode Island. We're also working with a group of low-income women in Providence who hope to use the certified kitchen as an incubator for new catering and food businesses."