by Laura Rodley
Food, and that elusive taste of home. Vendors and farmers at the New Bedford Farmers Market (NBFM) in New Bedford, MA, have been selling fresh high quality beef, fish and produce for people to make delicious meals in their own homes for decades. They also sell hand-crafted goods.
On March 20, the Coastal Foodshed, which hosts the NBFM, held an innovative vendor booth display workshop to help vendors increase sales by connecting with their own story. Organized by NBFM Manager Jillian Cotter and Coastal Foodshed Co-Director Stephanie Perks, the speaker was New Bedford artist and vendor Rhonda M. Fazio: “Crafting the Art of Food and Fabrics.” As the founder of Dyer Maker Studio and La Rhonda’s Catering: Alchemy in a Jar, Fazio combines these art forms to tell her story.
To create a story for their booths, Fazio said, “Your booth should reflect who you are, what you are passionate about, how you want the public to see you – how you translate that story from product to customer is what your booth ought to reflect.”
Her own story is driven by family and the connection to home. She creates food demos at the New Bedford Heritage Fishing Center and the NBFM. “I collaborate with the Coastal Foodshed where they provide the venue; I bring my portable pantry,” Fazio said. She uses produce, grass-fed beef from Stony Creek Farm and seasonal fresh fish from Kylers Catch, all sold at NBFM. “I take food that’s in front of me and make it into something. I cook the way my mother taught me through her mother, to create with what is available to us.”
This past winter, Fazio retraced the steps of her grandmother Angelina Palmaro, who immigrated to Ellis Island from Italy. “I backtracked. I went from where I lived, all to way to Europe, down through Italy into Sicily and took a ferry to the Aeolian island of Salina where my grandmother grew up,” she said.
Fazio said, “I had no connection with my grandmother. I didn’t know her very well. I connected to her through the ingredients she might have used: mussels, parsley, freshly baked Italian bread, olive oil, salt and pepper and red wine. I ground everything by hand, made my own breadcrumbs, picked lemons, grapefruits and oranges from the trees in the yard and around town.” She actively chooses to cook this way. As an artist, her founding principle is “the origin of the maker begins with the hands,” a story farmers share.
Her story is infused with the taste of home through cooking. For 20 years, she has also taught fiber dyeing classes to middle school students and citizens of Fall River and New Bedford and abroad “from materials that date back thousands of years” – cotton, linen, wool, silk and hemp, and natural dyes. “Because I’m a storyteller, when I teach my classes, I draw from history and bring these materials forward, to reattach people to them and the art of making things,” Fazio said.
She observed, “People are reconnecting to the idea of farming, of becoming a farmer and beginning to make things again, whether they have family in it or not,” and are attracted to “this maker culture,” as shown by the return of people making jams and their own clothes and growing their own food. Some might say they are satisfying their longing for home.
Vendors considered how to tell their own story – that not only do they work hard, but they bring a piece of themselves to the booth. Putting words to that story is hard, but with Fazio’s assistance, they could carve out words to share and bring forward, opening doors they didn’t know were closed. She suggested vendors talk about their process, document it with photos for customers to peruse, arrange wares as visual eye candy, create the look of abundance by spilling produce onto the table, use props such as appealing containers or curious bowls, accentuating the positive, and create themes coinciding with special events.
Jeff Sampson of Westport’s Sampson Farm said, “I went to the class to see if there is a way to sell my produce. I sell potatoes this time of year and I have found that talking is a good way to get a potential customer. Jillian asked why I do what I do. I have been farming for most of my life. I love the farmers markets. I sometimes only take in a few dollars (can’t say ‘made’ because it cost me money) but I love the other vendors and the people that pass through. If someone tells me a recipe I try and write it down so I can try it. I have gotten some great ideas which I pass along to the public through conversation.”
Participants included Bottega Boconni, Tripod Tie Dye, Beachside Baubles and Beads, Busy Sisters Boutique and SEMAP, which preserves and expands local food and sustainable farming in southeastern Massachusetts through research and education, and offers Technology Innovation and Education (TIE) grants of $500 to $3,000 for farmers to try new innovations and equipment.