Jun. 2—For its legions of hard-working organizers, Cape Ann Farmers Market has never been a walk in the park. But for the tens of thousands who've flocked to it for the better part of the past decade, it certainly has been.
Since 2011 when then Mayor Caroline Kirk gave the green light to relocate the market to the green expanses of Gloucester's Stage Fort Park, Cape Ann Farmers Market has grown into one of the city's biggest summer destinations, its crisp white tents pitched on the very shores where almost 400 years ago, 14 hearty Dorset fishermen arrived from England in search of cod.
This year, however, as Gloucester rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic and looks increasingly toward that 400th anniversary, the city — which plans to showcase the historic park, with its Atlantic vistas, rolling lawns, and fields of free parking as a key site in its anniversary celebrations — asked the market to pull up its tents and return to its original 2006 site.
That site is Harbor Loop, home to, most notably, 19th century master marine artist Fitz Henry Lane, and more recently to Maritime Gloucester, and even more recently to the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce.
For Courtney Ayer, who in 2019 succeeded founding market manager Nicole Bogin, the return to Harbor Loop comes loaded with pros and cons. While the Gloucester native and mother of three likes the idea of the market returning to its "original roots," she told the Times that "it will definitely be more of a challenge,"
Though Stage Fort Park's market — which at its height hosted more than 40 vendors, as well as musicians, performers, a children's tent, nonprofit tables and its hugely popular mid-summer Seafood Throwdown— was a much larger operation, Harbor Loop, though smaller, "will create bigger organizational problems," says Ayer.
"Moving has definitely upped the ante on logistics," she says. "The DPW is supportive, but it's much more complicated with all the permits and when you have to shut down streets and all that that entails."
And then there's parking. Whereas next to the fields of Stage Fort Park, parking had been free and easy, Harbor Loop "parking will also present a big challenge" not just for shoppers —who will rely on street and municipal parking, but for vendors, who'll arrive in vehicles laden with bushels of local farm produce to unload. "Where will they park?" says Ayer. "It's a lot of intense organization to sustain for the twenty weeks the market runs."
Cape Ann Farmers Market has also been something of a victim of its own success.
"We've fostered many businesses that just no longer need us," says Ayer. Startups including Markouk Bread, now on Main Street, eventually left their thriving tents behind to go off to build their own businesses. Then there's competition from farmers markets cropping up in Rockport and Magnolia, drawing away customers and vendors.
In fact, as organic foods became a mainstay in local supermarkets and markets, the nature of farmers markets in general has been changing. Maybe, suggests Ayer, it's time to return to the original mission, which was simply to connect local farmers to locals. That connection, that community, she says, is what Cape Ann Farmers Market has always been about.
So for now, there will be no children's activities, music, Seafood Throwdown or education tables. But in Harbor Loop, the market once again becomes more intimate, and an integral part of the tapestry of the bustling downtown waterfront.
Open Thursdays, June 3 through Oct. 14, Cape Ann Farmers Market will operate from 3 to 6:30 p.m., with plenty of fresh produce from local fields and farms. And, as ever, it accepts all manner of payment, including SNAP/EBT, HIP, Farmers Market Nutrition Program coupons, and senior discount coupons.
An independent not-for-profit, mission-based organization, Cape Ann Farmers Market was founded by and for the community, and now its back in the heart of it.
Joann Mackenzie may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.