After a long, regrettable spell of wimping out on Wednesday nights and making only spotty visits to the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers Market, I finally made it back last night. Like many of the customers who visit Pawtucket’s indoor market from November to May and then the Lippitt Park market (nearby, at Hope Street and Blackstone Boulevard in Providence) through the summer, I am religious by summer, but more like a lapsed communicant by winter. Still, since the last time I shopped there — sometime in December — I noticed a marked change.
Where was Wishing Stone Farm, I wondered. That’s the Little Compton farm that always has the biggest (and in my opinion, the best) spread. And who were all these farmers from beyond the border? My man and I loaded up on beets from Vermont, and we sampled cheese from Connecticut.
Beltane Farm’s goat cheeses (and Ben, the farm’s rep, who brightly insisted that we taste every variety that he had on hand) won me over immediately. From Lebanon, Connecticut, Beltane is new to the Pawtucket farmers market, and they plan to sell there for the rest of the spring. Their goat’s milk yogurt, given by twenty of Beltane’s own, is heavenly. We bought what I thought was a ricotta salata and combined it with (also locally made) Lebanese pita, eggs and vegetarian sausage for dinner.
But the cheese wasn’t labeled. Having forgotten exactly what it was that I was eating, I phoned the dairy, where one of the cheese makers explained that the ricotta is a new product for Beltane, sort of an experiment. Turns out, I got a little slice from the first batch of its kind. It’s younger than a true ricotta, which is traditionally aged to six months. And however that may strike a cheese aficionado (which I am not), what matters to me is that it is silky and delicious, still trés local and super-cool to try out the farm’s latest.
But to get back to the initial question: What gives? The summer market each year draws an abundant caravan of Rhode Island growers and producers to Lippitt Park. Why not Pawtucket? Why not now?
Tina Marie Lindahl, managing director of Farm Fresh Rhode Island, explains that many producers in our state experience dwindling supplies through the winter, and there’s not a lot of greenhouse farming in Rhode Island to replenish the supply this time of year. Some growers take a break from the market in April and May and focus on ramping up production to ready for summer market, which opens the first week of June. Meanwhile, Farm Fresh gets inquiries from vendors who hail from other New England states, farmers who are happy to make the journey and want to try the Pawtucket market out.
All I really want to say is, good for us! Good for Farm Fresh, and for the vendors who make the drive. I love that our local farmers markets are hopping all winter long, that the vacancies created late in winter and early in spring are filled, and that the people who shop there get to enjoy a grand variety of fresh produce, herbs, flowers, potted plants, yogurt, milk, eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, jams, breads, pastries, soaps and on and on — all local (yes, I do consider Vermont and Connecticut local, don’t you?) and all year long.