A small family farmer took a chance on bringing fresh, local, nutritious produce to an urban neighborhood that has no access to grocery stores.
I own Cecarelli Farms in Northford, Connecticut, and found out about Wholesome Wave through the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. Wholesome Wave is a nonprofit that brings fresh, locally-grown produce to underserved communities. Before partnering with Wholesome Wave in Bridgeport, we had never done farmers markets. We were purely a wholesaler.
The first year, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture ran the farm stand, and we sold our products to them. Then, Cristina Sandolo from Wholesome Wave called and asked if I had any interest in running the St. Vincent's farm stand. It was far from my farm, but Wholesome Wave does such a great job with outreach to make that market happen. I decided that running the St. Vincent's farm stand was something I wanted to do.
When we started, the market was not so great. I sold produce by the pound, and the lines were slow. People would fill a bag with tomatoes thinking it was a pound, and the next thing you know, they would have a 15-pound bag that cost $30. Working with Wholesome Wave, we began to do things differently. We took green beans, weighed out $3 worth of beans and put them in a bag. Now a customer could see exactly what $3 got them. We did the same with other produce. It really streamlined the process, making things go much faster, as well as teaching our customers the value of their purchases.
At St. Vincent's, I feel like our produce is going to an area that really needs it. It is a win-win for everyone. Not only are the markets benefiting farmers, they are also benefiting the community, because Bridgeport does not have fresh produce readily available.
Running the St. Vincent's farmers market changed my life. It opened avenues for direct marketing rather than purely wholesale distribution of my produce. It allowed us to have face-to-face contact with clients, which couldn't happen when selling wholesale. It is incredibly rewarding to interact with members of the community who really appreciate the produce we sell -- it is a feeling of mutual goodwill. I almost turned down the opportunity but am so glad I didn't. The market and my partnership with Wholesome Wave have continued to grow year-after-year.