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Published Friday, July 10, 2015

Farmers Markets Are the Way to Go for Summer

By Todd Feinburg

That Nutty Redhead started out selling her steamed praline nuts at farmers markets less than two years ago, but is now rolling out her product at Whole Foods and Market Basket stores.

Paul Cohan spent nearly forty years as a Gloucester fisherman, a notoriously grueling profession. He didn’t mind the work, but he saw it coming to an end, someday, either because he’d get too old or the industry would run out of steam. So he came up with a plan.

About 10 years ago, Cohan began Sasquatch Smokehouse, producing foods like smoked salmon and smoked mussels, as a part-time business. Last year, the business had grown enough (and the fishing industry had been so hampered by overregulation, he says) that Paul quit fishing and sold the boat. Now, the good-natured, white bearded “Captain” is piloting a seafood processing company. His product is sold in a few retail outlets and restaurants, but most of his revenue is generated at farmers markets, where consumers get introduced to both the man and his smoked, native seafood. And the business is growing.

Farmers markets are growing, too, as Americans get reacquainted with the idea of food that is produced locally… and created with care. Once simple events to help farmers bring their harvests to consumers, farmers markets now inevitably include a collection of food entrepreneurs who are testing out product ideas or using the direct contact with consumers to grow support for their businesses.

“A farmers market is the perfect venue for a small business to incubate because it’s very low overhead for them,” says Heather Atwood, co-director of the Rockport Farmers Market, which she helped start just three years ago.

“They need a tent, they need some tables, and we usually charge them just $30 to be here, but if someone’s really struggling we even give them a break,” adds Atwood. “And the exposure they get for their product, direct to the public, is phenomenal.”

Chef Barry Edelson of Five Corners Kitchen cooks up scrambled eggs with fresh herbs for fans at a recent Marblehead Farmers Market.

Chef Barry Edelson, owner of a fine dining restaurant called Five Corners Kitchen in Marblehead, likes being able to have firsthand contact with customers. He occasionally appears at the Marblehead market on Saturday mornings as the chef of the day, whipping up things like scrambled egg breakfast sandwiches with fresh herbs.

“I’m usually pretty busy in the kitchen during the night, so I don’t always get to see my customers,” says Barry. “The chance to chat with old friends and to reach out to new ones is great.” Marblehead’s is one of the busiest markets according to Curtis Gould, known as The Soup Guy. Gould built his business around farmers markets when he started four years ago, and they still represent about 85% of the roughly $250,000 he says he’s generating each year. “Winchester is a very good one, as is the Cape Ann market,” says Gould, “and Newburyport on Sundays is also great.”

Gould employs part-time workers to help him appear at fourteen markets, including some indoor ones, right through the winter.

Myron Lapine, who started Ma & Pa Pickles last year, is at the ground floor of a business made possible by farmers markets. He’d been unemployed after a disability forced him to leave his job.

Lapine produces and sells relishes, jams and jellies, in addition to pickles, with a variety of offerings available at the four North Shore markets he now regularly sells at.

Much further along in her evolution is That Nutty Redhead, selling all-natural, praline flavored cooked nuts, started by Lisa Griffiths and partner John Grant less than two years ago. Lisa makes her almonds and cashew-based products adding only natural ingredients. Their approach is unique, using a steam process in place of deep-frying.

That’s what attracted Whole Foods to the product, says Griffiths.

That Nutty Redhead is growing — and fast. “We’re in seven Whole Foods and we just picked up the Market Basket account a few weeks ago,” she says.

Growth is so rapid for That Nutty Redhead that things have gotten… nutty.

“We were in six farmers markets last summer, but now we’ve cut back to just one. That leaves time to concentrate on producing enough product for the supermarkets,” explains Griffiths.

“She’ll be a national product soon,” says Heather Atwood. “And she started right here in Rockport.”

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