In my last blog entry
, I interviewed Jean from Kennebec Cheesery who mentioned that she sells her products at Barrels Community Market. Barrels Community Market is a nonprofit community market that offers farmers like Jean a reliable place for their products and provides the Waterville and surrounding communities with a sure place to find local and often organic products. "Barrels" offers both educational and community volunteer opportunities.
Opening in June 2009, Barrels created a lot of excitement in the Waterville community which was eager to support its establishment and continuing success. Located off of Waterville's main street, Barrels is conveniently situated for Watervillians and passersby alike. While shopping and admiring the store's beautiful food and crafts, I had the chance to speak with the market manager, David Gulak, about the inspiration of creating Barrels as well as the reasons for its success.
MNN: Where did the inspiration for creating Barrels come from?
Waterville Main Street is our parent organization. Every year with the help of Thomas College, WMSt surveys downtown residents and businesses determine what they would like to see most in downtown. For five years running, the top answers on both surveys were along the lines of a co-op/market where people could get fresh (and local) foods year-round. WMSt tried to recruit a grocery store unsuccessfully for a couple years, then decided to take the project on themselves. Shannon Haines is the ED there, and she met with me (I was farming at the time, and had recently worked for a number of years with businesses and state organizations doing market research, grant writing, business planning, etc.), and a group of Colby students who were interested in helping get a market started. Colby gave us $15,000 to fund a feasibility study to determine if the idea was possible. From June to December 2008 we used that money to talk with potential suppliers, meet with accountants and lawyers, form an advisory board, put together a business plan, apply for additional funding, find a location, develop a name and logo, assemble volunteer teams, establish key partnerships and work out the other details. The study was very positive, and signs all pointed towards go, so we formalized our plan, rented our present location (in the "Barrell Block," named after Charles Barrell who renovated the space). We decided not to go with the co-op model, but rather remain as a non-profit community market with WMSt as our fiscal agent.
Waterville Main Street was the founding organization, and its focus is exclusively downtown Waterville.
What do you think the community's reaction has been to the store?
Incredibly positive. We now average 50-75 transactions a day, with over 100 people coming through the market daily. We do anonymous questionnaires and they are all very positive. Plus, the anecdotal feedback we get is that word on the street is very supportive and enthusiastic about Barrels.
Our goal is to appeal to all the demographics in the region. We do get a significant amount of people that come in and use food stamps, if that is an indicator of lower-income customers. Colby [College] staff and students are great supporters. And then we get a great mix of local business folks, workers, residents, etc. It's a pretty diverse customer base, with some people coming to do all their shopping, and others coming for a natural soda and a loaf of bread.
How many Maine farmers/producers contribute to the store?
We have close to 100 food providers (farmers and processed foods like jams and breads), and about 75 providers of crafts, bath and beauty products, etc.
How do you pick your contributors?
Some we research and contact, like every farm or craftsperson within 30 miles of Waterville, through similar websites, databases and whatnot. Others find us and ask to sell products here. Our parameters are things made from locally sourced and naturally occuring inputs, and grown with little to no synthetic fertilizers/pesticides.
Will you expand the number of contributors?
Always, anyone that fits our parameters and is willing to work with us.
How does Barrels benefit the Waterville community?
Place to find fresh local foods year round, place to exchange ideas and attend events based around community and sustainability, a venue for local producers to sell products and make a living, reduce use of fossil fuels (drastically lower shipping distance for products), attraction to draw people downtown, market is becoming a source of pride in the community.
What is your favorite part about running Barrels?
Definitely the vast array of great people, on both the customer and producer side, that I get to meet and talk with on a daily basis. Very cool people have become associated with the market. Barrels tends to draw people out of the woodwork.
How much of your products are organic?
Most of them or grown/prepared organically, though I hesitate to say that because I can't promote them using the term "organic" if they are not certified. So probably a third of our total food inventory is certified organic, and another third organic in practice.