Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Pastoral Setting: Lyme Farmers Market at Ashlawn Farm

What makes for a great farmers market? The mix of vendors is key, but what else? What is it about a market that turns shopping from a chore into an occasion?

At the Lyme Market at Ashlawn Farm, location is everything. Set in a field downhill from a 300-year old farm house, with panoramic views of pastures, horses and cows, this market is as bucolic as it gets.

I grew up in a setting like this, in dairy country in upstate New York. So maybe that's why, even though I'm going to work, I feel so peaceful when I drive to this market. Or maybe it's because, now that I live in a small city, vending here feels like a mini-vacation.

But here's a funny thing about this location: if you live in the city, a trip to Ashlawn is a way to get away from it all. But if you live in the country, a trip to Ashlawn becomes a way to connect with your neighbors. One thing I remember about growing up in a town where a walk around the block is a five mile hike is the isolation. You don't just bump into people walking to the post office or the local coffee shop. You don't say "hi" very often in a day. So anything that brings people together is extra sweet and extra appreciated. (The dogs like getting together, too.)

Besides building community and connecting farmers with customers, the Lyme market meets another need: the preservation of CT's farms. Of course, all farmers markets do this by connecting farmers with customers. But the Lyme market also helps preserve the farm on which it's located.

Ashlawn Farm has been in the same family for 100 years. But the current owners, Chip and Carol, didn't plan on or know anything about farming. Chip was a financial planner and Carol was a teacher. But when Chip's elderly uncle Sam was about to lose the farm, they stepped in and bought it. Now they're raising their family here. And the market--along with their coffee-roasting business and the leasing of pasture--helps generate the income they need to keep the farm alive.

But the best location in the world wouldn't work if Chip didn't pull in some great vendors. At Lyme Market you'll find organic and conventional fruits and vegetables, goat cheese, cut flowers, potted plants and seedlings, breads, local beef, soaps and body care products (mine!), jams, jewelry, locally sewn items made from hand-printed fabrics, and the most wonderful truffles I've ever eaten. There's also plenty of ready-made food available: breakfast sandwiches with local eggs and sausage, hamburgers from local beef, shrimp spring rolls with Thai basil, Voodoo Grill, Ashlawn Farm's own coffee (I especially like their iced coffee, cold-brewed for twelve hours) and--my favorite--a vendor with raw vegan treats like cilantro lemonade, pressed salad, vegan "sushi" and raw chocolate with goji berries.

The Lyme market at Ashlawn farm runs Fridays 3:00-6:00 and Saturdays 9:30-12:00 until at least mid-October, possibly later if the weather is kind. I'm there on Saturdays. The market will be closed Saturday, July 25th.

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