May 11, 2012
The Williamsburg Farmers Market Celebrates 10 Years
On Saturday mornings, locals and visitors alike gather in Colonial Williamsburg’s Merchants Square for the Williamsburg Farmers Market. They ask about the vegetable varieties (what are those little orange tomatoes?), discover new chocolate creations (yum: cranberry and coconut!), as well as get tips on cooking heirloom breeds of chickens (about 30 minutes longer). The vendors grow, make or raise all of those items here in Virginia.
The Williamsburg Farmers Market, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has evolved into one of the most popular events in Williamsburg. “We have more than 32,000 people visit us at the farmers market throughout the year. I hear wonderful compliments about how much they love the location, the vendors and all of the fresh food, specialty items and the healthy potted plants and cut flowers,” said Libbey Oliver, market manager for the past 10 years.
The two good friends who initiated the idea of a farmers market in Merchant Square Tom Power and Tom Austin, were inspired by other farmers markets and thought Williamsburg needed the same access to locally produced food—and they knew just the spot to hold one. Power is the owner of The Fat Canary and The Cheese Shop, and Austin is the owner of Berret’s Seafood Restaurant and Taphouse Grill, all located in Merchants Square.
“We thought that with Merchants Square and Duke of Gloucester Street, it made a lot of sense to have it in this location. It’s an attractive, inviting place for people to gather, and it’s a good thing for our community,” Power said.
Local organizations enthusiastically embraced the idea and met to discuss making it a reality. The Farmers Market Advisory Committee united members from all over the community, including the Merchants Square Association, City of Williamsburg, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg Land Conservancy, the College of William and Mary and James City County Extension Services. The groups joined together to revive the historic role of the Williamsburg town center as a place for markets. This collective effort launched the farmers market’s first full season in 2002. Ten years later, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Merchants Square Association and the City of Williamsburg continue to be founding sponsors and supporters of the weekly markets.
Over the years, enthusiasm has grown and so has the market, due to community support. Local businesses sponsor additional events at the market, including the Chef’s Tent and live music each week. Annual sponsors include Riverside Health System, Towne Bank, Howell Design Group and Virginia Grown. There are also more than 60 volunteers annually who lend a hand with inquiries from guests on market day.
One evident sign of success is the America’s Farmland Trust designation in 2009 as “America’s Favorite Market” in the medium-sized category. The Williamsburg market season has expanded into the early spring and late fall, with additional markets in the winter and for the holiday season. For the 2012 season, the number of vendors has grown to 50, offering even more selection for guests. Everything about the market is growing, from the first strawberries of the season to the number of visitors the market attracts each week.
“The market’s key to success is the integrity of local area growers and producers, never middlemen, offering their best directly to their neighbors in Williamsburg’s best public space,” said Williamsburg City Manager Jack Tuttle. “On Saturday mornings, something both ever-changing and ancient, something magical happens of Duke of Gloucester Street.”
On Saturday mornings in Williamsburg, the market embodies the bustling sense of “market day” common in colonial times. In fact, one of the primary roles of city government was to operate outdoor markets in “Market Square.” There are additional events beyond the vendors’ stalls, including live music and kids dancing, chefs at work demonstrating recipes and people enjoying their morning coffee. After sampling all the market has to offer, there is plenty more to do in the area, including visiting Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area.
The market opens on Saturday mornings at 8 a.m. and runs until noon. During market hours on Saturdays, the Francis Street parking lot is free. Parking is available at the Prince George Street garage for $1 an hour. All other lots are posted as one-hour or two-hour parking. The regular season ends Oct. 27. For a complete list of vendors and events, visit www.williamsburgfarmersmarket.com or contact (757) 259-3768 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at www.history.org.