The Farmers Market comes to life
The Farmers Market has played a huge role on Block Island for many years, attracting tourists, summer residents, and locals to its incredibly supportive and talented small community. At the Farmers Market, stalls are set up where people can sell their artwork, produce, and local goods — a great way to reach out to the island community and sell their items.
At the market last Wednesday, I had the privilege of speaking with several of the vendors and was able to develop a clearer perspective on their individual businesses, as well as their ties to the market. I also spoke with the market coordinator, Dorrie Napoleone, who provided details on how the market began, as well as how to join the market.
The market was started about 28 years ago by a small group of people who wanted to set up a location where people on the island could sell the items they make. The main rule is that everything the vendors sell must be made on the island. In order to become one of the vendors, there is a meeting that one must attend.
“We hold a meeting every year in late May. If you want to join, you bring a sample of what you want to sell. Then the standards committee reviews the samples and decides who can join,” said Napoleone. “I advertise for the meeting for about a month before it takes place.”
Dorrie not only organizes the market every Wednesday and Saturday, but also sells her own art. She has been selling at the market for about nine years and lives on the island year-round. She paints on fabric, buoys, and seashells, creating her own patterns and designs.
“I sell pillows, bayberry candles, and sea globes, which are like snow globes but have sand and seashells inside instead,” she said. In addition to her artwork, Napoleone also sells recyclable bags with the Farmers Market logo on them. The logo was designed by local artist Jessie Edwards.
Peter Gibbons, a jewelry maker, sells his creations at his own stall at the market. He’s been making jewelry for about 39 years, but has been selling at the market for 22 years. Along with selling at the market, his creations are also available at Golddiggers. He uses several methods in crafting his jewelry. One method is called lost wax casting, in which a mold is formed around a wax model; then the wax is melted away to form a hollow cavity into which the metal can be poured. He also makes some of his jewelry out of wire, or cuts shapes out of sheets of silver and gold.
Another island resident, Eileen Miller, has been selling her oil paintings at the market for 10 years. She explains, “I chose to sell at the market because it is such a great community of artists and produce vendors. The Farmers Market supports island artists and a lot of people pass through here. The Market is very well-attended.” She paints beautiful canvases of the island scenes, and is also exhibiting and selling her pieces at the Spring Street Gallery.
Margaret and Dee McCandless, Mark Edwards, and Joe Maurer form the well-known and well-loved band that plays at the market during the early summer season. They have been playing at the market for 19 years and are named Aunt Sallie’s Band. Margaret explained, “We have become part of the Farmers Market atmosphere. The richness of vocal harmony and the musical instruments have become ‘a growing up sound’ for many people at the market.”
They play a wide variety of genres and play songs from different decades too. “We say that we play gypsy music because we cover a lot of territory in terms of the music that we play,” Dee McCandless said. Margaret added, “We play so many different types of music, ranging from ’30s and ’40s swing music to South American tangos to Scottish Celtic songs.”
Suzanne Nolter and Scott Comings sell local produce and gorgeous bouquets of flowers at their stand. They live on the island year-round and have been selling at the market for 10 years. They grow everything on their farm and sell fruits, vegetables, flowers, and eggs at the Market. They also sell at a few restaurants and do special deliveries for weddings and other events.
Pat Doyle runs a baked goods stall with the help of her husband, Tom, and her grandson, Seamus. Pat is famous for her scones, which come in three flavors: orange pecan, lemon poppy seed, and raisin. Last year, she began offering bags of her scone mix because she usually runs out of her scones at the market. Though the scones are the most popular item, she also makes wheat and Tuscan homemade breads, sticky buns, and flowerless almond and chocolate cakes (gluten free).
Another artist, Stuart Littlefield, makes fish sculptures, cut from recycled shipyard metal. He also cuts the metal into the shape of Block Island and of birds. Each metal sculpture is handmade and unique, crafted at the Bee Farm barnyard.
Finally, the market would not be complete without Littlefield honey, owned by Stuart’s parents Sue and Chris. Samantha Alger, who has been helping the Littlefields with beekeeping since last fall, illustrates, “The Littlefields have been selling at the Farmers Market for about 25 years. They have about 60 hives, and the bees collect and store honey during the winter. However, beekeeping is becoming more difficult because of maladies, mites, and pesticides.” They make blackberry blossom honey and cream-style honey, which is thicker and richer than the blackberry honey.
The market is filled with delicious food, beautiful pieces of art, and a lot of hardworking people. All of the vendors are very talented, and there is so much to explore at each stall. The Farmers Market has become a true part of the Block Island experience and is something that everyone should visit. The Farmers Market runs on Wednesday mornings from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the Manisses parking lot and on Saturday mornings from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at Negus Park.