Rutland’s winter farmers’ market will kick off its new season Saturday in a much larger location. Organizers are excited because it means more vendors can take part. And city officials are pleased because the market is moving into an old warehouse that’s been vacant for years.
Rutland first began holding a winter farmers’ market five years ago in the old Strand Theater downtown. Local farmer Greg Cox was one of the organizers. "It really served its function well," he says. "But we knew from the day we opened that we had outgrown the space. We had more vendors on a waiting list than we had vendors attending."
Cox says their new site, a nineteenth century ironworks building just blocks from the center of town, will triple their floor space and provide ample parking – something their old location lacked. "It’s beautiful," says Cox. "It’s basically an eye beam post and beam with metal trusses – it’s built like a battle ship." Cox says, "it has that old industrial feel and we’re bringing that new industry – food. This will be filled up with vendors on November 3rd – there will be musicians and it will come alive."
Electricians have been hard at work and you can still hear them doing final adjustments. "This started in June," says David O’Rourke, "and every Sunday since there’s been volunteers here every Sunday."
O’Rourke, a business consultant for the project, says the building needed over $100,000 worth of work. But thanks to lots of community support, he says that price was cut nearly in half. "We’ve had about 130 different volunteers and we’ve got about 650-700 man hours of people in volunteering to do stuff around the place," he says.
While the new space has room for 100 vendors, Greg Cox says they’ll start with 50 and ramp up slowly.
He says next spring, the Vermont Food Bank will begin using about a third of the building for a southwestern distribution depot and Cox says they also plan to build a commercial kitchen for local food entrepreneurs. "If you build a hockey rink you have to rent ice time," says Cox. "If you build a commercial kitchen you have to rent kitchen time. That’s one of the reasons the Vermont food bank is here." Cox says, "They want to link up with the farmers;
rescue that produce; be able to replicate their Barre model, which means take the rescue food, lightly processing it in the commercial kitchen and make it available as single serving dinners to particular classes."
John Sayles, CEO of the Vermont Food Bank, says he’s been looking for a partner in Rutland for years. He says sharing space in what will be called the Vermont Farmers Food Center makes perfect sense. "You know it’s really neat," he says, "to think that after the farmer’s market on Saturday, that all the left over food that the farmer’s don’t want to take back will go to the food bank and be distributed to people who may not be able to afford the farmer’s market."
Sayles says it’s a great partnership.