On Saturday morning, I wandered to the end of Spring Street with a friend and came upon the beginnings of the Williamstown Farmers Market.
In the usually quiet parking lot space was a row of tents and colorful displays. Musicians played violins and little kids ran between the stalls. Vendors had set up tables with baked goods, candles and fresh produce. I was quickly distracted by a stand of bouquets, and started talking to Lawrie Nickerson, who was more than happy to tell me about how she started Hay Berry Farm LLC.
Nickerson has been coming to the farmers market for just over a year, but her journey here began in 2008 when, after retiring from teaching, she bought a piece of land in Hoosic Falls. The move was unexpected – while she had experience in landscaping, she’d long ago put to rest her dream of having a hobby farm. With the help of a friend, she was able to prepare the soil and start planting in 2009. The you-pick farm – at which customers pick their own produce – now specializes in lavender, blueberries and flowers.
Though the farm isn’t officially certified organic, Nickerson explains that she adheres to those growing principles. “My farmers of the month are consistently the worm and the seed,” she said. “We don’t use toxins. We rely on the diversity of plants to keep away pests.” She pointed out each of the flowers in her bouquets on offer, and also showed me a stack of dried sunflower heads. As we spoke, a young girl and her family wandered over to buy one. “People use them to plant more sunflowers or to feed birds in their yards,” she said, smiling at the little girl’s enthusiasm.
Her joy seemed to be shared with many of the other vendors. For Steve Beach, the carpenter who’d set up camp right next to Nickerson, showing people his work is his favorite part of coming to the farmers market. His Shaker-inspired furniture, made from reclaimed wood, is sold in four locations, from Great Barrington, Mass., to East Chatham, N.Y., but “the Saturday market is the only one I come to in person,” he said.
Like Nickerson, Beach said he is surprised by how he came to be a vendor at the farmers market. While he’s worked in a range of professions throughout his life, from leather shops to logging, he’d been an amateur when he started his woodworking hobby.
It started when he developed shingles and meningitis and couldn’t work. “I was laid up for the summer, but my wife said I had to start doing something,” he said with a laugh. “I started making furniture in the barn.” He “got early American books and learned about the Shaker style.”
While honing his new hobby, Beach also made another serendipitous discovery. While driving in the country, he saw a barn with a bad roof and stopped to talk to the owner. Whereas Beach had wanted to advise her to put a tarp over the roof to protect it, the owner informed him that the town had declared the building dangerous and was going to charge her to have it dismantled.
Beach was aghast. “The barn in New York was from 1790,” he said. “It seemed a shame to let that history go.” Beach offered to take down the barn himself, on the condition that he could reclaim the wood and use it for his carpentry projects.
Because of the period in which it was built, the barn had been made from a variety of lumber. This variation called for artistic choices. Beach pointed out the grain of one lightweight box, explaining, “I couldn’t make a table out of wood like this.” He admits that knowledge like this comes with experience. Because he isn’t formally trained, “of course you make mistakes sometimes, but that’s how you learn.”
“It’s been a real labor of love,” Beach said. “This is the most creative thing I’ve ever done. It doesn’t feel like work.”
As I made my way around the other stalls, waving at Nickerson as I passed, I realized that this was what made the farmers market feel so special: Everyone there, no matter what they were offering, was there because they were doing what they loved.