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Farmers' markets

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where fresh, local products are offered & socially like-minded people gather

PENOBSCOT COUNTY - Farmers' markets are growing in popularity around Maine. Most offer everything from veggies to meats, fruits to cheeses, even breads and other baked goods. And as appealing as all those fresh items are, those who attend will tell you that's not the only reason they're drawn to these outdoor bazaars. Wandering from farmer's stand to farmer's stand with others searching for healthy food choices is truly a social experience like no other.

"You're connecting with neighbors and farmers. It's like the 'Ye Old General Store' used to be," said Mary Lou Hoskins, owner of Greencare in Hermon. And Clayton Carter of Fail Better Farms in Etna agrees.

"It's about connecting with your community as well as buying healthy local foods," explained Carter. "Since we see some of the same faces, we can have conversations and ask how their week is and how their kids are doing."

Carter has been a vendor at the Orono farmers' market for years. It's one of the few in the area that is a year round farmers' market. During the summer months, vendors set up shop Saturdays at the steam plant parking lot on College Avenue, while the rest of the year they move to the Pine Street parking lot behind the Bear Brew Pub.

"The year round thing works out really well when you have a strong and loyal customer base and that's what Orono has going for it. We see the same faces there all summer and winter," said Carter.

Of course fresh Maine blueberries, strawberries, cucumbers and carrots can also draw in quite a crowd.

"When you taste something that's fresh or been picked, it tastes completely different than something shipped across the country," explained Carter. "The flavor of some of these things is off the charts. And it's easier to make delicious meals when you start with fresh foods."

Three years ago, Hoskins offered to help promote those fresh Maine flavors when she made her parking lot at Greencare on Route 2 in Hermon available Thursdays for a farmers' market.

"My business has been here for 13 years. It's a very busy road, a big commuter route, and most of the people who stop in here are on their way home from work," explained Hoskins. "Anything that gets people used to turning in the driveway is good for my business and the farmers' market."

And according to Hoskins, there is nothing quite like meeting the growers and farmers responsible for the veggies and other products that make it to one's dinner table.

"In this day and age, people are looking for a connection. People are concerned with food safety, and if you can look someone in the eye, you can be assured it's safe stuff," said Hoskins.

The Hermon farmers' market runs from 2 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays starting June 14. Meanwhile, just down the road folks can take in the outdoor market and cool sounds concert in downtown Bangor, Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m., throughout the summer.

"The outdoor market started as a way to draw people downtown as a destination attraction. It has now become part of the summer tradition," explained Shirar Patterson, downtown coordinator with the city of Bangor.

Broad Street is shut down a couple of hours before the outdoor market opens, in order to allow vendors to set up their goods.

"We create that market atmosphere, where people can walk around," said Patterson. "We have bread, cheese, produce, gift items and jewelry. We'll also have prepared snacks like pulled pork sandwiches and popcorn if you're looking to enjoy the concert."

The outdoor market has been such a success that even the downtown business are benefitting.

"The downtown businesses have been really receptive to this because the event might bring people down that normally wouldn't have come downtown. There's a lot of cross over between visitors at the market and the businesses," explained Patterson.

The outdoor market in downtown Bangor is still accepting vendors. Those wishing to participate can get more information, including a vendor application, at www.dowtownbangor.com.

For more information on farmers' markets, log onto www.getrealmaine.com.

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