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Pleasantville Farmers Market as Popular as Ever 25 Years Later
When Pleasantville decided to experiment with a farmers market on two Saturdays in the fall of 1998, it was mainly an attempt to breathe a bit of life into a struggling downtown at the time.
More than two decades later it would have been difficult to forecast the popularity that brings hundreds, if not a few thousand, local shoppers to Memoria Plaza each Saturday morning in what has become the largest and one of the longest-running year-round farmers markets in Westchester.
On Saturday, the village, volunteers, vendors and the public celebrated the 25th anniversary year of the Pleasantville Farmers Market, recognizing how the once fledgling operation has mushroomed to become a model for other communities.
“In the early years, the idea was to create some vitality downtown on a Saturday morning at a time when there wasn’t much,” Mayor Peter Scherer said. “That was achieved not just (because of) the market but lots of other things that happened over the last 25 years. But the market grew sort of organically based on the fact that a whole lot of folks, not just Pleasantville folks, but people from the whole region wanted to come and have access to this kind of food, produce, stuff straight from the producers.”
As part of the celebration, which included a corn roast, Scherer and market operators honored Mead Orchards of Tivoli, N.Y. in northern Dutchess County as the lone vendor that has continuously been at the market since its inception. Nearly four years ago, Chuck Mead sold the business to Scott Blasdell who has continued the tradition.
“We did well here. We always did well,” Mead said of his loyalty to Pleasantville. “In the beginning it was kind of tough, but farmers markets, when they start, are always poor and you stick with them and some of them get good and some of them don’t and this one did.”
Blasdell said someone would “have to pry this market from my cold dead fingers” for his operation to stop showing up on Saturday mornings. He said the fact that local volunteers run the market, through the nonprofit organization Foodchester, makes a significant difference because those involved are vested in its mission.
“A distinguishing feature between here and other successful markets is that it’s run by volunteers,” he said. “The difference between that and a for-profit market is night and day.”
Market Manager Steven Bates said the only other market that he knows that has operated for longer than Pleasantville’s is in Ossining. What had been a spring through fall market for about the first 15 years, evolved into a year-round operation when the indoor winter market debuted nearly 10 years ago inside Pleasantville Middle School, he said.
Once the pandemic hit in March 2020, they could no longer stay at the school, so the decision was made to move outside year-round, although for shorter hours from December through March. During the past two years, online ordering from Tuesday through Thursday was also introduced.
Today more than 60 vendors are affiliated with the Pleasantville Farmers Market, with anywhere from 35 to more than 40 of them at Memorial Plaza each week, Bates said. Some are there weekly; others are on a rotation with other similar vendors.
Music, children’s activities and special programs are all part of the experience.
“There has to be community interest and there has to be food artisans and grower interest,” Bates said of a successful market. “If the bond is there, you’re just managing a happy relationship. That is a lot of work, but it really starts with the community and the farmers and the food artisans.”
Sharon AvRutick, vice chair of Foodchester, said the farmers market serves as a community meeting place for many in a relaxed atmosphere on a weekend morning.
“The sense of coming together in a space where people are happy, and food is generally is a great focus for gatherings and we sort of build on that, and then what happens is the shoppers get to know the people who grow their food and you know about their families and it just builds, relationship upon relationship,” AvRutick said.
The Pleasantville Farmers Market is open every Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/