COLUMBIA — As of last summer, leaders from the town of Columbia had been kicking around the idea of starting a farmers market for several years. But despite those efforts, the plan didn’t seem to be getting much traction.
The recent college graduate and Columbia resident is a seventh-generation farmer from a family that originally hailed from Iowa. Molly grew up helping her parents at their Wilkinson Farm, which produces maple syrup and honey, selling those products at several farmers markets around the state.
“Molly was working for us last year,” said Nancy Tabor, owner of Heartstone Farm and Winery in Columbia. “She was a great employee and she’s a farm girl. We were talking about Columbia needing a farmers market. I told her she could get it done and call it ‘Molly’s Market.’ That’s how it started.”
Molly’s Market opened for business on the grounds of the Heartstone Farm and Winery on Route 87 on Aug. 6 and will be held every Thursday through Oct. 29.
If You Go
WHAT: Molly’s Market, a traditional style farmers market
WHERE: Heartstone Farm and Winery, Route 87 Columbia
WHEN: Thursdays 3-6 p.m. through Oct. 29.
VENDORS: Field Engineer Farm, Bloom Bake Shop, Wilkinson Farm, Beef Octane/Beard Octane, Canbera Farm, Healhy Hound BARKery,
Quiet Corner Cookies
“When it was suggested that I run the market I thought it would be a great experience,” Wilkinson said. “I come from seven generations of farmers so I know how are important we are. I know a lot of farmers in town so I wanted to create something for them to meet people and provide local food for people.”
Molly’s Market got its start with a test run in October 2019 with a one-day event to gauge interest in the town and among vendors.
“It was really successful,” Wilkinson said. “We went to farmers in the area, we went to other markets, reaching out to people we knew who were vendors to see if they might be interested.”
The decision to move forward with the weekly market came late last winter, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In a way, that timing was helpful as Wilkinson was trying to get her farmers market off the ground while juggling the responsibilities of a full-time job.
“It worked out because I wasn’t working for awhile so I had time to work on the market prep,” she said.
The major legwork involved setting up a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization and a seven-member board of directors.
With the administrative pieces in place Wilkinson was able to move on to recruiting vendors for Molly’s Market.
“We reached out to vendors at other markets and I’ve been working with the Andover market master Amanda Gibson. She’s been fantastic in helping us get started. She has been promoting us all the time and has been a tremendous help. Our produce vendor does that market as well and he’s on our board of directors.”
Wilkinson is back to working mostly full time for a company from Lebanon called Window Garden, doing product packaging and occasional promotional videos utilizing her degree from Compass College of Cinematic Arts in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“They do home garden kits,” Wilkinson says. “It’s interesting that COVID has increased their sales.”
After a day at work Wilkinson puts those marketing skills to use for Molly’s Market.
“When I get home from work we answer emails, do marketing, anything that needs to be done. With the 501(c)(3) done, the majority of the hard work is over … so it’s more keeping up with it. Publicity is major thing now.”
Over the first two months, Molly’s Market has had a total of eight vendors, with six in attendance every week and a couple popping up to test out the market on a given week.
“All of our vendors have been fantastic,” Wilkinson said. “We are a startup market so some weeks are slower than the established markets. But our vendors have all been understanding and wonderful to work with. Even when we have low attendance they are all buying from each other and its a family atmosphere among the vendors, which is nice.”
A nice perk to attending Molly’s Market is that Heartstone Farm and Winery is open and visitors can purchase a glass of wine on a recommendation from the owners and take a look around the facility.
Just giving people somewhere new to go during a pandemic his another benefit is another draw.
“People are looking for a safe place to get out and see other people,” Wilkinson said. “We’ve been told to stay in our house, don’t go anywhere except the grocery store, and you’re constantly afraid. Here, it’s all out in the open. People can space themselves apart and we do our best to create a safe environment for people to shop and interact with other people.”
Wilkinson says she is determined to get though this year and is already looking forward to year two.
“We hope to expand and get some more vendors who weren’t able to get here this year because of some of the COVID regulations put in place,” she said. “Some were struggling a bit because of the pandemic so hopefully a few more will join us when things calm down.”
As a way to propel her market into next year, Wilkinson is planning a Halloween theme for the final market on Oct. 29.
“We’re going to have vendors dress up, buckets for trick-or-treating for the kids, and encourage people to come in costume,” Wilkinson said. “And possibly get a discount at the tables.”
The personal satisfaction for Wilkinson runs deeper.
“I love to see communities come together,” she said. “It’s very important to me to know your neighbors and to know where your food is coming from and that it’s coming from a local place.”