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Market to celebrate the season; Grand opening festivities set.

Byline: Paula J. Owen

FITCHBURG - Local and state officials as well as artisans, musicians, crafters - and let's not forget the farmers - are turning out for the official grand opening of the Fitchburg Farmers Market at Riverfront Park Aug. 13.

The event kicks off at 3 p.m. with music and more than a dozen vendors selling their wares. A trolley offering free rides to and from the market will stop throughout the city from 3 to 11 p.m. At 5 p.m., a ribbon cutting and award ceremony is planned, and the original founders of the market, which started at the Hyland-Rice Co. on River Street in 1979, will be honored. Officials from the state's Department of Agricultural Resources also will be on hand.

After the ceremony, the Dendron Dancers from the Cornerstone Performing Arts Center will perform. There will be food demonstrations, children's activities and a volleyball game - all free to the public. A family-friendly movie will be shown starting at dusk.

In celebration of Mayor Lisa A. Wong's 30th birthday, her office is giving away ice cream at the market.

Sheila Lumi, the market's manager and coordinator for the North Central WIC program, said the market has grown beyond expectations since it opened at Riverfront Park earlier this season.

"I am very happy the people of Fitchburg have supported the market and the way people are starting to think more about buying local and incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into their diet," said Ms. Lumi.

"People are coming out to support local agricultural, artisans, craftsmen and Fitchburg talent ... They get to see the beauty of the park and meet their neighbors and see what wonderful people they are."

The market is growing, she said, and there is a waiting list to participate. However, the committee is still looking for farmers who have specialty items, such as Asian edible amaranth and pak choy.

Ms. Lumi has also been spending her time going to agricultural training and demonstrations.

"As market manager, I really need to understand how to make the market grow to satisfy both vendors and shoppers," she explained. "I really need to know what they need and want, and understand a farmer's lifestyle, to promote the market."

David M. Webber, program coordinator for farmers markets from the state's Department of Agricultural Resources, said the number of farmers markets in the state has grown to nearly 200. This was a record year, he said, with 40 additional markets established throughout the state.

"In general, there has been a lot of growth in the number of markets in the last few years," Mr. Webber explained. "Farmers markets are important because they provide local farmers with direct marketing for their products to consumers. With produce coming in year round from all over the world, it is hard for growers in Massachusetts to compete in the wholesale market. In terms of capturing retail dollars for growers to thrive in Massachusetts, the markets are important."

David C. Gordon, chairman of the Fitchburg Farmers Market Association, said the market is helping revitalize the city`s downtown area.

"I think it's already a success," Mr. Gordon said. "It's grown faster than we suspected it would and has helped draw people to downtown."

With new apartments and condominiums available for rent on Main Street, he sees the market as an additional benefit for prospective renters.

"The market is an amenity to help draw people to the downtown not only to shop, but to live," he said. "My interest is to help rejuvenate downtown Fitchburg and this can really help do that. We want to make the market into a larger event over time while still maintaining a good balance between customers and vendors."

The market is also helping make fresh produce more accessible to people who need it most.

The WIC program, Ms. Lumi said, provides coupons to participants for fresh fruits and vegetables that can be redeemed at the markets in the hopes of getting participants to incorporate more healthy eating habits into their diets.

The program's mission is to promote eating fresh fruits and vegetables, she said, and the market at Riverfront Park makes getting that produce easier.

Farmers Market coupons awarded to WIC participants will be doubled at the market this week, she said.

Additionally, farmers will be accepting payment from people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by the end of August, she said. The first 100 people on the program purchasing produce with their benefits will receive $10 coupons, she said.

Local farmers markets

Riverfront Park: Open Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m. with a free movie shown in the park at dusk

HealthAlliance Hospital,

Burbank campus: Open Mondays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Wallace Civic Center: Open Fridays from 8:45 a.m. to noon

For more information: E-mail slumi@mocinc.org or call (978) 345-6272 ext. 225

ART: PHOTOS

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/JIM COLLINS

CUTLINE: (1) Anne Adams sells vegetables for Harpers Farm at the Riverfront Park farmers market. (2) The market, as seen from the pedestrian bridge over the river.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 13, 2009
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