CHESTERTOWN — Sabine Harvey wears many hats. But when she heard Chestertown was “looking desperately” for a new manager for the weekly farmers market, she decided, why not one more?
“It combines many of my passions,” said Harvey, who is a home horticulturist by day.
She succeeds longtime manager Owen McCoy, who died last summer. McCoy’s daughters initially took over the responsibilities, but according to Harvey it became too much for them to handle.
Enter Harvey, who was hired as the new manager in February as the unanimous choice of the Chestertown Mayor and Council.
So far, she said, the job has been a “serious amount” of work, but rewarding and a lot of fun. Currently, the market has about 32 vendors, selling everything from fresh produce and seafood to cut flowers.
“We have been very busy, I’ve seen a lot of happy faces,” she said in an interview in the Kent County News office on July 17.
Harvey has been working on expanding the market’s reach to a new demographic: low-income residents.
Shoppers at the Chestertown market now can use Women, Infant and Children and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cards and nutrition coupons to purchase fresh produce, which they might not be able to afford otherwise. The new initiatives are available thanks to the Maryland Market Money program through the Maryland Farmers Market Association.
To use these methods of payment at a farmer’s market takes a little finagling. People with SNAP cards can have their payment processed at the information booth, where they will receive tokens for the dollar amount they need. At the register, Harvey can give SNAP cardholders an additional $5 to spend at the market.
She said the program has been going well so far.
“However, I don’t want to run out of money,” Harvey said. “I want to be able to continue this program.”
She is working to extend these additional funds to be able to match a shopper’s SNAP tokens dollar for dollar to double the money they can spend at the market. To do this, she has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the program, which can be found on the Chestertown Farmers Market Facebook page.
Harvey said she also welcomes donations in the form of checks mailed to the Chestertown town hall at 118 N. Cross St.
For people who participate in the WIC program, the process is a little more difficult. None of the vendors can process the e-WIC debit cards, so WIC has a special Farmers Market Nutrition Program that allows WIC recipients a six-coupon booklet (valued at $30) to use. The coupon booklets, given out by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, are valid until November.
If a WIC recipient uses a coupon at a farmer’s booth, the farmer issues a receipt, which the shopper takes to the manager’s booth.
Unlike the SNAP program, Harvey can match WIC coupons dollar for dollar.
“There, they get double their money. So that’s huge, because those recipients just got to purchase produce that they otherwise never would have been able to buy, and in addition, obviously, that is also revenue for the vendors that otherwise would not have been there. So it’s a win-win situation,” Harvey said.
In addition, Harvey is in the process of planning a one-day market event during National Farm to School Month in October. The market will be located at Garnet Elementary School in Chestertown for an afternoon, and during the school day students will be allowed to shop.
Harvey said she is working with the PTA to plan a parent event later in the day where there will be demonstrations on food preparation.
“There’s a lot of stuff available then. We want not only to say to people, ‘Hey, you can come and get vegetables,’ but we also want to show them what they can do with it,” Harvey said.
It is also open to the community. Harvey said the different time, day and location will allow the market to reach people who otherwise might not be able to come. The FMNP coupons given out to WIC recipients don’t expire until November, so they will still be valid during that time.
The temporary market’s proximity to Washington College also can be easily accessed by college students, “so the students know about the farmers market and familiarize themselves with the vendors so that they have some access to some locally grown food as well, rather than just the cafeteria,” Harvey said. “The bottom line is, we want students to be able to go and shop.”
Some of the money raised from the GoFundMe page will go toward funding this pop-up market.
Setting up these programs was not easy.
First, Harvey realized that the Chestertown market was not a member of the Maryland Farmers Market Association.
Once the market here joined the state association, Harvey received an email about joining the Maryland Market Money program. The deadline to apply was the next day.
“As an idiot, I tried to get all the stuff together (myself), but I did, and they accepted us,” she said.
Whereas other farmers markets in Maryland are run by nonprofits, Harvey is the only person staffing the Chestertown market. She has help from one volunteer, Jon Hanley, but is usually the only one to staff the booth, help with food assistance program recipients and collect the weekly fees from the vendors.
To further expand the market’s capabilities, Harvey can’t do it all herself. In addition to running the market and working a full-time job with the University of Maryland Extension in Kent County, Harvey is the president of the Chestertown Tea Party Festival Committee — among the other hats she wears.
She is hoping to attract volunteers that could help out on Saturdays as well as with some of the behind-the-scenes tasks, such as creating a new website. People interested in volunteering can contact Harvey through the Chestertown Farmers Market Facebook page or email her at email@example.com.
“There’s so much food here. But then, of course, just because there’s food, that doesn’t mean people have access to it in terms of actually knowing where the place is. It also doesn’t mean that people actually have the means to shop there, or when they do, it doesn’t necessarily mean they know what to do with it. There’s a lot of hurdles,” Harvey said.
“I just like to make it as easy and foolproof as possible, and this is such a great county, so I just want to bring all those groups together, make beautiful food and share it with your friends,” Harvey said.
The Chestertown Farmers Market, which has been a staple in town since its creation in the early 1980s, runs on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon downtown in Fountain Park. The full market is open from the third Saturday in March until the last Saturday in December. A reduced-participation market is also open during the winter, weather permitting.