Berne farmers’ market ‘extraordinary success’ with four vendors

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Councilwoman Bonnie Conklin sits at the dais in the Berne Town Hall on Jan. 1, during the town’s annual reorganizational meeting. Conklin helped organize Berne’s latest farmers’ market, which had its inaugural event on Aug. 5.

BERNE — Although born out of slight controversy, Berne’s latest farmers’ market was an “extraordinary success,” according to one of the market’s vendors, Todd Gallup, of Gallup Farms on Boercher Lane in Berne. 

“It was far beyond our expectations,” said Gallup, who sold a wide variety of fresh produce — including tomatoes, lettuce, and cantaloupe — which he said will only widen when he returns to the Berne Town Park for the next market. 

“The market next week will probably be busier now that the word’s out,” Gallup said. “At least that’s what we’re hoping.”

The market was organized by residents John Zelenak, Nelson Kent, and Berne Town Board Councilwoman Bonnie Conklin, and it will be held Wednesdays at the Berne Town Park from 3 until 5:30 p.m., with no formal end date but likely through apple season, into October, Zelenak said.

The market was formulated as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which the organizers worried would more greatly afflict Hilltown residents who were forced to go off the Hill into more populous areas for their groceries, let alone local farmers who may have been facing new logistical challenges presented not just by the virus, but by the regulations put in place to prevent its spread. 

Conklin was the first to present the idea publicly — having obtained it from citizen outreach, she told The Enterprise this week — when she posted about it on social media in April, back when the pandemic was near its peak in Albany County.

Fellow council member Joel Willsey criticized Conklin at the board’s April 22 regular meeting for getting ahead of herself by advertising the market’s hours before the town board discussed how it would be organized under the pandemic’s shadow; Conklin countered that it was merely a way to gauge community interest before later apologizing. 

It was after this meeting that Zelenak decided to reach out to Conklin and see how he could help the idea overcome the unique obstacles before it.

“I was attending a virtual town board meeting,” Zelenak told The Enterprise, “and I heard Bonnie Conklin mention it, and there was some heated discussion on the town board, but it seemed folks thought it was a good idea even though there was some concern or questions over how the town would be involved, or why the town would be involved, or if the town should be involved.

“And so,” Zelenak continued, “it sounded to me like it might not work out unless citizens got involved, so I emailed Bonnie and said ‘I’d like to be a part of this,’ and eventually she said ‘Yeah, it’d be better not be part of the town. There’s implications for the town if there’s calamities or liabilities.’ So it was better for it to be a citizens’ group, [the board] thought.”

Zelenak said he handled communication for the group, while Kent acted as the market manager. Conklin told The Enterprise that she helped “getting vendors and some advertising.” 

Kent and Conklin both keep up on the state’s Agriculture and Markets regulations based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which are all being followed, Zelenak said. “And it’s not hard to do. It’s an open-air situation; customers didn’t come in packs, and vendors were very far apart.” 

Zelenak added that Conklin kept a stock of hand sanitizer and masks for visitors who needed them. 

“One-hundred percent of our customers had masks on,” Zelenak said, estimating the number of people over the course of the day at 100. 

In addition to Gallup, there were three vendors who, altogether, supplied a spectrum of products from pickles to crafts to whole organic chickens. 

“Most folks picked something up,” Zelenak said, adding that one customer celebrated having picked up Christmas gifts for friends and family from each booth.

“I know there were only four vendors,” Zelenak said, “but how many farmers’ markets have you been to where you can say that you got something from each vendor?” 

As the vendors were packing up, Zelenak said, he asked each how they fared, with one reporting twice as many sales as anticipated, and another who sold out of chickens.

The Aug. 13 market will feature at least six vendors instead of four, Zelenak said, and there’s room for up to eight vendors, and maybe even more if vendor layout and parking are looked at more closely. Anyone interested in getting involved can post on the Hilltowns Farmers’ Market Facebook page.

“It was my first farmers’ market ever,” Zelenak said. “I didn’t know how it would work or if it would work … I thought it would be a challenge. It would be more logical if these [vendors] had been arranged to sell down in Voorheesville or Altamont, where it’s less agricultural. If you have room to grow things, you’re probably less likely to buy something from your neighbor.”

Nevertheless, he said,  “It went incredibly well. It was a complete success.”

Zelenak concluded of the popularity, “I don’t know that it was a result of there being such awesome stuff there as much as it was an outpour of generosity from the citizens.”

More Hilltowns News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.