A Stand Apart

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T he Woodmont Farmers’ Market in Milford, hosted by Robert Treat Farm at the edge of the town’s beachy Woodmont section, is worth the 15- or 20-minute drive from New Haven. Held 3:30 to 6:30 on Wednesday afternoons, late June to late August, it adds a rotating group of local farmers and artisans to Robert Treat Farm’s robust daily offerings. The result? A super-charged farm stand with heaps of farm-fresh vegetables, baskets of vibrant fruit, piles of baked goods, jars and bags and plates of specialty foods, rows of flowers and plantings and tables of hand-crafted wares.

Along with some good-lookin’ signage, a quintessential red barn buzzing with people and product lets you know you’re in the right place. Inside this barn is the Farm Store, open most days, which gives off a general store-meets-farmer’s pantry vibe. Happy children pick out penny candies while parents line up to pay for armfuls of gourmet cheeses, fresh breads, oils and those fruits and veggies. Items for sale are numerous and nuanced, and there’s an emphasis on local.

“Market master” Katie Cook says these kinds of goods “reflect the true nature of the market.” Mary Treat, daughter-in-law to the titular Robert Sr. and sole owner of the operation these days, says she started the weekly marketplace in the summer of 2008 in part “to keep agriculture in Connecticut.” She says she “has the opportunity and the space” to encourage and help sustain other great local agricultural businesses, and she’s determined to do just that.

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The market picks up outside the barn, where the feeling is country fair-meets-New England bazaar. Small farmer’s markets usually comprise alleys between parallel tents with vendors facing one another, but the Woodmont gathering does it differently: the main space is a square with several offshoots to other vendors, leading shoppers around a small but smartly organized courtyard. The circuitous shape fosters exploration and curiosity—it’s fun to see what’s around the corner. Last week’s event, Cook notes, saw several “crafters sprinkled in” with the vendors selling edibles. Handmade homeopathics and beauty products made from local raw honey sold alongside hormone-free packaged beef cuts and fresh shellfish.

Through a corridor of fruits and vegetables picked from the fields just beyond the market, Treat presides over the CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) pick-up station, which is active for 16 weeks from July through November. Here, a verdant smell emanates from perennials, annuals, lawn statuettes and other elements from the nearby greenhouses of Robert Treat Garden Center. Next to a mountain of portioned vegetables, she greets the CSA subscribers—many on a first-name basis, amazingly—who’ve lined up to collect their bounties. Checking her list, Treat calls out to a staff member to fetch the farm share each customer has ordered. These shares come in three different sizes and price points—small (for two people) at $240, medium (for two to four) at $400 and large (for four to six) at $560.

With loaded crates in hands, CSA-ers head to a bagging table. Here, friendly faces both new and familiar trade recipes with one another. The farm tries to keep the rotation varied so customers don’t end up with pounds of, say, kale piling up at home, and has smartly designated a “swap table” for those looking to tweak their hauls.

The produce from Treat’s farm isn’t certified as organic, but the farm does adhere to the tenets of integrated pest management (IPM) farming, meaning that all pests are managed by organic means, with inorganic chemicals only considered as a last resort. Meanwhile, any CSA food that isn’t claimed gets donated to the Beth-El Center for the homeless in Milford.

Here, social responsibility meets sociability. “Mary’s awesome,” volunteered one buyer, while another quickly attested that “these [vegetables] are the closest I can find to my grandfather’s garden.” In the face of such praise, Treat demurs a bit: “It’s fun to know people appreciate what you do.”

Clearly, the Woodmont Farmers’ Market is more than a business endeavor. “Everyone just wants to see the market succeed,” says Cook, pointing to a “sense of community” here. Many of the vendors have close relationships with customers, including Kathy’s Famous Cookies, based in Milford. The business is a crowd-favorite and has been participating since the beginning. Food trucks come, too; there were four of them last week, including NoRA’s Cupcake Company from Middletown and Big Green Truck Pizza from New Haven.

Jane’s Good Food, not a truck, is only in its second summer at the market, but pickling pro and proprietor Jane is already a mainstay. Starting her company by using “a lot of [her] mom’s recipes,” she’s now introduced special pickles made with less sugar and more spices at the request of Woodmont market-goers. The Dilly Beans, Cajun-style pickled string beans, are a delicious highlight.

Highlights—turns out there are a lot of those on summery Wednesday afternoons at Robert Treat Farm.

Woodmont Farmers’ Market
at Robert Treat Farm
1339 New Haven Avenue, Milford (map)
Wednesdays 3:30-6:30pm through August 27
(203) 878-4270

Written and photographed by Jared Emerling.

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Jared Emerling is a New Haven resident with a BA in literature from SCSU. Until recently he worked as the manager of Meat&Co and 116 Crown in the 9th Square. He loves the biographies and inventions of Nikola Tesla.

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