(Copyright @ The Hartford Courant 2001)

Maria Solano was on her way home to cook for her family Friday when she saw farmers selling produce in front of the Old State House.

“I was wondering what all these people were doing, and finally realizing what was going on, I got the ingredients I needed for tonight’s dinner,” said Solano, a resident of the Frog Hollow neighborhood, speaking in Spanish.
“I was surprised to find so many other products for sale,” she said.
Connecticut farmers, 150 of them, are taking part this year in 62 farmers’ markets throughout the state. Because this is the largest number of participants thus far, shoppers at the markets will find a wider variety of fruits, vegetables and locally made products.

Farmers’ markets are not new to Hartford. In fact, according to the state Department of Agriculture, which organizes the program, the first market in Hartford was established in 1643.

In 1987, the state agency was appointed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to participate in the federal Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which benefits low-income families in the Women, Infants and Children program by offering them a convenient way to get nutritious foods. The program allows the farmers to sell their products to those who need them most and to interact with their customers.

Throughout July, the farmers will sell produce such as strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and squash and flowers such as geraniums, zinnias and impatiens. In August, fall flowers such as hardy mums and perennials, some in patio pots, will be available, along with fruits such as apples, peaches, pears and watermelon. Once fall begins, apples and pumpkins will dominate the selection of fruits .
There are five markets in Hartford, including one at Park and Washington streets, held at the Walgreens parking lot from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The downtown farmers’ market is open the same days and hours outside the Old State House, 800 Main St. The South End market is held at Prince Technical School, 500 Brookfield St. on Thursdays from 9 to 11 a.m. The Asylum Hill market is held at the parking lot of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Ave., on Wednesday from noon to 3 p.m. A market also is held year-round at the Hartford Regional Market from 5 a.m. to noon.
At the parking lot of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, shoppers will find Glastonbury farmers Tom and Joan Kemble, who have been involved with the farmers’ market program for the past two years in Middletown. This is their first year working in Hartford.
“We are very comfortable here in Hartford,” Joan Kemble said. “Hartford is our city, and being able to come back and get in touch with the community is really exciting.”
The products they sell, such as lettuce, radishes, potatoes, jellies and flowers, are certified organic, which means that they are grown under natural conditions.
One of the vegetables they offered for sale looked like a long stem of a plant.
“They’re called garlic scapes. It’s too early in the season to pick garlic bulbs, so what a person does is cut the stems of the garlic plants and use those instead,” Kemble said. “They taste and smell just like garlic and are probably better because there’s no peeling involved.”
Shirley Ferris, an employee of the Department of Agriculture, said there are benefits in having markets in Hartford.
“People are able to buy true organic foods from the people who grow them,” Ferris said. “Parents also have the choice to buy things like potatoes instead of potato chips. It’s all about having the option of eating healthy.”
The markets are expected to run until October, right before the first frost.
To request a free brochure listing farmers’ markets throughout the state,call 860-713-2575 or visit the website http://www.state.ct.us/doag.