Farmers market: A space for local connections

by Sanjana Deshpande, Features Editor
photo by Emily Schwartz

Every Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Tuesday from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. from June to October, local bakeries, farms and small shops come from near and far to sell organic produce, unique treats and specialty items at Newton North High School and Cold Spring Park. 

For over 40 years, Newton’s farmers markets have been a summer staple for residents. A sense of community extends to vendors alike.

At Uncle Joey’s Cannoli’s stand, employee Domiana Piazzisi fills fresh cannolis and hands out business cards. She said that the farmers market offers a welcoming environment and exposure to new customers and business.

“It’s really taken off in the past two years. We’ve expanded on adding new flavors, and we make all of the filling from scratch,” she said. “The customers here are really easygoing, nice people. It’s a very fun, chill, laid back environment, and I like making people smile, and people usually smile when they get a cannoli.”

Farmers markets like Newton’s provided Robert Frassica with an avenue to start and grow his business, Pocket Watch Bakery, after graduating from culinary school. His father, John Frassica, said the COVID-19 pandemic made opening a bakery even harder, so they had to find alternate solutions.

“It ​​happened to be that he graduated right when COVID broke out, so to start something at a brick and mortar, meaning a storefront business, at the time, just wasn’t a good idea. It was impossible. So he created this business where he rents a kitchen and he sells online and at the farmers markets, and he gets himself an opportunity to promote his cookies that way,” he said.

“He wants to start his own bakery, but right now, he’s working with the farmers markets because it’s amazing the people you can meet in different locations of the state. And now he doesn’t want to leave. He loves it.”

The pandemic hit Rose Chipalu, who owns Bridges Nepali Cuisine, hard as well, as she missed being able to interact with customers and see their reactions to her food. 

“We were here two years back before the epidemic, and then we came back again,” she said. “But during the epidemic, we were not able to participate in the markets, and that was a little frustrating because we wanted to come out here and see people and see their responses to the food.”

The farmers market strives to serve the entire community no matter customers’ financial situations. Stephen Lesiczka, owner of Wally’s Vegetables, said that the market offers programs which both assist those with lower incomes and allow vendors to bring in more revenue.

“One great program that we have is through food stamps, SNAP cards and EBT cards. It’s called the Healthy Incentives Program, and anyone on a food stamp is allocated 40, 60 or 80 dollars, depending on their family [income], that they can spend at the market that’s covered by the government,” he said. “So that’s been great for us too because it brings in business that otherwise we might not get.”

Market Manager Nancy Scammon said that while the pandemic was difficult for the market as it was for everyone, it has bounced back successfully.

“We did have restrictions,” she said. “But we got through like everybody else did, and I think that the vendors are happy to be back here. We actually had some vendors who weren’t going to dump the market only because they knew that they would get better sales in this spot. So it was important to them, and I think that to the vendors, having this space is special and important.”

For vendors like Piazzisi, the community that the farmers market has fostered is the best part of selling there. Piazzisi said that she has formed connections with the other businesses at the market.

“I really like talking to them, and everyone is willing to help everyone set up and things like that,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s just me. It feels like it’s all of us.”

Frassica said that he loves getting to form connections with customers and leaving an impact on the community.

“The experiences we’ve had with customers that we didn’t know before, but who now all of a sudden come back every week and we’ve gotten to know their names, is an awesome feeling,” he said. “When you see a customer come back every week, and you know his name is Mark, or Tony or Jill, and you say, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re back again,’ that’s an awesome feeling.”