it takes a market


“They didn’t mention the farmer’s market!”

I swear it was my mom who cried this, not me. To give credit where credit is due, she was participating in CSAs and dragging me to markets long before I had any interest. But over the last year my passion for local food has become so fervent that anyone close to us might find it odd that she could get more indignant than myself over a farmer’s market.

Her outcry stemmed from the most recent travel review of Portsmouth, NH, done by the New York Times’ Ethan Gilsdorf. Mr. Gilsdorf fit a weekend worth of Portsmouth visits into a full page article titled “36 Hours – Portsmouth, N.H.” It was flattering, and accurate. He used the usual buzzwords to describe Portsmouth – historical, nautical, beer. He visited historic sites like Strawberry Banke and local landmarks such as The Press Room. He just didn’t mention the Portsmouth Farmer’s Market.

My mother’s point was valid. Presumably a tourist would be visiting the city of Portsmouth during the summertime, when the produce on the Seacoast is most vibrant. Was it too much to ask that he walk just past the main Portsmouth strip to the city offices, where the farmer’s market was set up?

My boyfriend Thom, ever the voice of reason when it comes to my local escapades, said that yes it was too much to ask. Mr. Gilsdorf was writing a piece about Portsmouth, not the greater Seacoast Area. I argued that Portsmouth is the Seacoast, just as much as Dover or Exeter, or Newmarket is for that matter. That Portsmouth is less of a city and more of a neighborhood. Just a part of a whole. Thom disagreed, saying people have done reviews of “The Seacoast.” That in fact Dover, Exeter, and Newmarket as just as much unique and individual as Portsmouth is. They support each other, but they are not the same place by any means.

At the very core the Seacoast towns do meld together, like any New England area. They were divided up from bigger ecosystems and cultures and greatly supported one another throughout time. This is why the Farmer’s Market might seem like such a significant oversight to someone like my mom. It will always be hard to mention one Seacoast town to a local without evoking the idea of another. The Farmer’s Markets represent this feeling.

For example, The New York Times’ article cited the Black Trumpet as a place to visit. Like all of my favorite restaurants in the Seacoast, the Black Trumpet literally draws from it’s local roots. These sorts of restaurants proudly source from local farms not as a marketing ploy, but because it’s the natural thing to do. The Seacoast has such a strong farming community it’s no surprise more locally sourced restaurants open every year, and flourish.

When talking to Thom, he made a very valid comment. It would be hard to include a farmer’s market in “36 Hours – Portsmouth, N.H.” because a farmer’s market is like it’s own city. The Portsmouth Farmer’s Market exemplifies more of my idea of the “part of a whole” than the city itself. Farmers come and congregate, each from a different place, to create a greater community. Markets develop personalities similar to that of a city. The Portsmouth FM is more of a reflection of the Seacoast Area than any one seacoast town.

In fact, during the summer, every day there’s a market driving distance from where I live with it’s own culture and value. Each one could be written about, vendor by vendor, like the 36 Hours column. There are many markets as vibrant as Portsmouth’s. You can shop for your whole week at a good market.

So, I am not offended that the Farmer’s Market wasn’t mentioned in the New York Times piece. But, the market culture should be mentioned by someone. You can learn more about the heart of an area by visiting it’s farmer’s market than by visiting a handful of stores or restaurants. Highlight your trip with the sightseeing and restaurant going, and understand the history through museums like Strawberry Banke. But you may never really understand where you are until you’ve visited the farmer’s market.