Tracing our roots back...247 years!
Before the opening of the first Public (Farmers') Market in Portland in 1768, most of the local food supply was peddled door-to-door in "odd looking" hand carts (see photo).
Among the well known food purveyors of the time, were "Marm" Larrabee with her wagon of blueberries, Stephen Cash who dispensed bivalves (mollusks) from his one wheeled carriage, and Stephen Chase who sold lobsters from a bright red wheeled barrow near the old City Hall.
The most famous street character, though, was gentle, crazed, "General Warren" with his cocked hat and his cane tied with red ribbons as badges of imagined glory.
In 1768, the town voted to establish a public market in the lower part of the Town Hall. A town ordinance provided that all fresh meat could be offered for sale only at this market. The market served 136 families on the peninsula. Provisions were carried into town in large leather saddlebags or paniers on horses backs and it was not until about 1815 that horse wagons were generally used.
In 1805, the market moved to Hay Market Square (now Monument Square), where there were market stalls setup. There, at daybreak, farmers and traders brought meat, eggs, butter, and other produce to sell.
In 1810, with the market growing, the stalls were made into a two story building. By 1825, the (original) "Market House" was completed and then remodeled in 1832. After the remodel, the building became Portland's first City Hall. After government business took precedence over the farmers' marketing, and being the only public hall in town, as well as housing the city's government, it eventually required the bottom floor for city business. The market then moved to the corner of Milk and Market Streets. (In re-Civil War days, when farmers set up shop on market days on Milk Street, they arrived in horse drawn buggies to sell their farm goods).
In 1917, the market moved, again, to Federal Street (the Lincoln Park side), when the city government stepped in to establish the official "Portland Farmers' Market".
In May of 1976, the market made it's 5th move to "The Golden Triangle" (across from Federal Street) with it's 39 farmers/vendors. This move was a hopeful way to revitalize the market's unique and colorful facet of Portland's heritage. At this time, the market was open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7:00am to 3:00pm and offered a variety of home and farm grown vegetables, fruits, and flowers.
In May of 1990, the market moved back to Monument Square (and on Saturdays moved to Deering Oaks Park?) and with it's 16-20 farmers, began to gain momentum again with customers. At it's former location, business had been down, and market vendors were pleased with this additional move. Then market president, Robin Beckwith, was quoted saying "I think we've finally secured the farmers' market by having it here on Wednesdays and in Deering Oaks on Saturdays. It was very rocky for a while". Many farmers reported increases in sales ranging from 30%-500%. Robert Dobson, one of (then) three partners of Meadowood Farm in Yarmouth, and the only organic farm at the Portland Market then, said "We've done fantastically...there's been a 500% difference!" The move back to Monument Square also benefited the local merchants with increased foot traffic.
The Farmers' Market has had it's ups and downs, over it's long history. There have reportedly been attempts to close the market: in 1922, the City received complaints from local merchants about cheap competition as well as complaints from market customers that farmers were selling goods from wholesalers and neighbors, and not from their own farms. Public indignation won the day, and a hastily-called city government meeting rescinded the abolishment order. Again, in 1956 City Hall subtracted 26 stalls from the 90-stall market...the truth of the City's intention was never unearthed, and once again public indignation proved that market fans were a group to be reckoned with, as people started speaking of the market as a quaint old institution that ought to be regarded and maintained in the same light as Boston Fanueil Hall marketplace. (By the 1960s, there were 64 stalls brimming with local produce)
Thankfully, the City of Portland is now very supportive of the Farmers' Market! From 2010-2012, the Portland Farmers' Market Association (PFMA) was formed by the farmers of the market, in order to strengthen the management of the market.
The PFMA is a cooperatively run non-profit that manages, promotes, and supports the market. We added the Market Information Booth as a way of making stronger connections with the community and increasing access to the market by accepting food stamps, credit, and debit cards using a wooden token system.
In 2011, the Portland Winter Farmers' Market was added, creating continuous, year-round access to the market. Our farmers' are continually pushing themselves and the season to offer amazing Maine grown and produced foods...even in our cold winter months.
2015 is our 247th year as the Portland Farmers' Market. We hope you will join us in celebrating the groundwork that our predecessors set for us - a part of Portland's heritage and a beautiful example of the strength of our community. We look forward to helping the market continue to grow as it meets the needs of our customers, without whom there would be no market!
(Above photo by Corey Templeton of the Portland Farmers' Market in Deering Oaks Park, 2012)
Thank you for being part of our rich history as one of the longest running markets in the country!
(This account of the Portland Farmers' Market history is a compilation of information obtained from the Maine Historical Society and the Portland Public Library Archives. Please let us know if you find any errors in our account of the market, or if you have additional information or photos that are not included here.This is a work in progress, and will continue to be updated as we enjoy researching our market's history. Apologies for some crooked, scanned pictures...we're working on improving them!)