By now, we are all familiar with the word “pivot,” and many of us have learned exactly what it means to re-invent our business practices in the midst of this new normal. Our chamber was no different, and our first big challenge was to reconfigure our farmer market, now in its 19th year. Deemed an essential business, we felt it was important to continue this weekly program of connecting people to locally-grown produce, and to enable our smallest businesses, our market vendors, to continue to operate, if possible.
So pivot, we did! We had to cancel two of our 2020 winter markets but opened in the spring with a new layout to allow for more distancing between vendors and customers, an online ordering and curbside pick-up option, and a whole new set of rules regarding music, dogs, payment, and masking. The popular kids’ art tent was converted to take-home projects which were prepared each week in advance with the help of Fort Community Credit Union employees, who help sponsor this activity. The December Holiday Market was notably smaller, with less than 40 vendors, but some were situated outdoors at Blodgett’s Garden Center, which introduced a new venue we’d never used before.
When 2021 arrived, we welcomed back our art vendors and dogs and musicians. We added a kids’ garden in partnership with the Dwight Foster Public Library, which provided space along its building for kids to tend and harvest their seedlings. Because the Blodgett’s location was so well-received for the Holiday Market, we created two evening markets there, and if you went, you saw how packed they were with people hungry for a new experience. We welcomed new vendors, new customers, and new volunteers. And now, we’re planning for another successful Holiday Market.
While it’s true that there are a whole host of people who enable the market to exist, not the least of which is our presenting sponsor, Fort HealthCare. The market would not be were it not for the dedicated vendors who show up each Saturday around 6:00 am, the volunteers who collect produce for the food pantry and man the welcome booth, the loyal customers who come each week to visit their favorite producers. But it also would not be if not for the efforts of the chamber’s part-time Farmer Market Manager, Alisha Bade, who took on this role in late 2019 with no first-hand knowledge of how the market had operated previously, and then was tasked with re-inventing everything about it.
It was Alisha who initiated the children’s garden at the library. It was Alisha who worked with Blodgett’s to create a magical evening market, and it was Alisha who advocated for the vendors and their customers to ensure the market continued in spite of the challenges presented by the pandemic. Alisha created a newsletter to keep the vendors informed. She worked to ensure our sponsors received their due recognition. She wrote press releases and leaned on the talents of her associate manager Kaity Smearski to educate the public on the market’s special offerings. In short, she ensured that our market would continue. As the one chamber program that is the most visible in our community, it is Alisha that keeps it running. It is our pleasure to present Alisha with the chamber’s 2021 Friend of the Chamber Award.