Left in Andover: The miracle of farmers markets

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

I first experienced the magic of a traditional farmers market on a trip to Morocco’s Ourika Mountains in 1978.

Farmers, potters and camel dealers converged upon a desolate high mountain plain. In an age old ritual of trade and sociability, a public square formed. Then poof, a few hours later it disappeared again.

I never dreamed anything approaching this could flourish here in northern New England within my lifetime. Yet, over the last quarter century, I have witnessed first-hand just such a miracle.

Market tents set up in Londonderry last Saturday ready to go at 9 a.m.

From Rutland to Woodstock to Norwich to Walpole to Ludlow to Londonderry to West Townshend, Manchester and Dorset, I have set up my pottery wares rain or shine within an enchanted circle of veggies, flowers, cheese, meats, wines and other crafts.

Some of our market development trials were flops. One summer, a group of us tried to get a Wednesday market going in Londonderry.

Our first winter indoors in Dorset, the occasional stray customer had to run the gauntlet of a dozen of us hungry vendors. Against the odds, this is now a flourishing established event.

Despite the uncertainty, I would never go back to the sterility of plain old craft fairs after being part of this living, breathing, roving organism of farmers, cooks and makers.

Susan’s daughters with their ‘duck rescues.’

In 1997 when I took my kids on a month long adventure to France, they “rescued” two baby ducks from an Auxerre farmers market. Pis-en-Lit and Fleur Jaune imprinted on my girls as they herded their little charges around town every day.

For several months after our departure back to the states, we mailed $20 bills to our French hosts to cover the ducks’ feed bill. But no doubt they had already landed in the stew pot.

When I got back to Vermont, I fantasized purchasing the field on the opposite side of Route 5 from the Norwich Farmers Market. In my dreams I would make pottery there and haul it over to the market via donkey every Saturday.

Our markets here in Vermont will probably always lack live trussed poultry and laden donkeys. But these glorious markets have now matured into a solid year-round local food distribution system and culture of farmers and makers. To me, this is the new “real” Vermont.

Driving by deserted market areas on non-market days, I marvel at the vitality that animates these spaces four short hours each week. For visitors and regular customers alike, Vermont farmers markets represent the best shot at meeting dozens of independent producers in person who otherwise remain invisible, tucked away on back roads.

Ourika Mountains, Morocco, 1978, Susan’s first experience with a traditional farmers market.

For me, market day is an opportunity to join with members of my constantly expanding community while trying to earn a living doing what I love.

It is also a chance to just sit and visit. There really is no other place I can casually bump into so many friends and acquaintances in my rural area.

A few Saturdays ago, holding court as I have for the last quarter century in my assigned spot along the West River in Londonderry, it dawned on me that I have graduated to being one of our oldest vendors.

Years ago, my neighbors at the market were a 90-year-old woman selling her pickles, an 80-year-old selling his wife’s artwork and a 70-year-old jeweler. I was your garden-variety 50-year-old.

This year at West River, I have enjoyed visiting with one of our craft vendors, Bruce Meyer. He may even be older than I am.

Bruce, among other many talents, is an accomplished woodworker. All his pieces are hand-turned from local wood, much of it found on ground on his multi-generational farm in Andover.

Bruce Meyer at the West River Farmers Market on a recent Saturday.

I admire how he shares his process tirelessly with visitors to his booth. If you happen to visit the market on a day when the two of us are set up in contiguous spaces, your ears may ring with a refrain of “made all by hand at my workshop in Andover.”

Others of our multi-talented roster constantly amaze me. Along my row is a vegetable vendor who is also a creator of comic books. Squeezing lemonade are journalists. A public official vends a beautifully stitched line of original clothing.

You may even find yourself on the other side of a table one day. Just make sure to stake the corners of your tent. We’ve had a lot of windy days so far this season.

The West River Farmers Market is held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 9 at the intersection of Routes 100 N and 11 in Londonderry.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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