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June 11, 2013
Island Profile: How one young couple created a farmer’s market
Dan Fokine, with his wife Brianne, are the driving force behind the upcoming Farmer’s Market, opening this Saturday morning, June 25, on the grounds of Havens House, home of the Shelter Island Historical Society.
“Can you think of a better place for a market?” Bri asked. “It was the original store” for the Island, she said. “It has a great history and it’s beautiful. It’s going to be more than buying vegetables,” she said of the weekly Farmer’s Market. “People can spend time in the museum, wander the grounds, hang out, shop the store at Havens House as well as the market. It will be a really great asset for the Island.”
Her husband Dan, 29, grew up on Shelter Island. His parents moved here from Yonkers when he was five and he and his two brothers and two sisters attended the Shelter Island School. Dan left after 10th grade for boarding school and Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, not far from Boston.
After graduation in 2004, he moved to Boston with friends and in the following three years he worked at several jobs — in a bookstore, at the Arnold Arboretum and eventually as a farm distributor at a CSA project (Community Supported Agriculture) in western Massachusetts. He met a man there who was starting his own farm in Massachusetts. “We became friends,” Dan said, “and he offered me a job out there for a year so I moved there and got to know the farm business a little.”
Back during his Boston years, he had met Brianne, who is now 26. She was a student at Simmons College in Boston, majoring in art history. The oldest of five children, she grew up in Alfred, a small town in southern Maine, where her dad was the football coach, “leading to a wonderful date-less high school experience,” she recalled.
After high school, she had started at Susquehanna College in Pennsylvania, “but I got tired of cows,” she said. She wanted a city experience and Simmons provided that. “We met in 2007,” Bri said of Dan, “through a friend who was dating my sister,” and she followed him in 2008 to his job at Stone Soup Farm in Belchertown, Massachusetts for the year. Together they ran its market.
When winter came, they returned to Shelter Island and married later in 2009. “I worked for my dad at Fokine Construction for a few months,” Dan said, “and then took a position at the Cornell Cooperative in Riverhead. “I worked there for less than a year. I felt like if I was going to live here on Shelter Island, I wanted to live here. I was away so much. Riverhead was like 12 hours a day. If I was going to live here, I wanted to work here and so I stopped. I’ve been working for my dad ever since.”
But their farm experience stayed with them both. “When I moved back here,” explained Dan. “I still wanted to do farming type stuff.” He wanted to rent land, start some kind of project, “but it always came down to the fact that there was no place for me as a small scale producer to sell my product. If you grow raspberries, where do you sell them? On the road, but if you don’t have a roadside stand, if you don’t own property, then what? So we have a lot of reasons to do a farmer’s market. In a farmer’s market, you can do that, sell things on a small scale.”
A market wouldn’t be for Dan alone, of course; it would allow any Islander to turn his or her gardening hobby into a small business for a small investment. Vendors have to commit only to taking a booth, which makes the investment a reasonable one and, Dan thought, “kind of fun.”
So the year before last, as Bri told the story, “We looked at each other one day and said, ‘Let’s just do it.’ We dove in and looked at a bunch of stuff, including the website for the New York Federation of Farmers Markets. We got the ball rolling. We made phone calls. We were looking for a venue.”
The most positive experience they had was that whenever they mentioned “a farmer’s market,” Islanders would always remember the one that used to be held at George’s IGA on Friday afternoons and their recollections were always positive. But for more than a year, their search for a site was fruitless — until the Historical Society entered the picture.
Bri was volunteering there this past winter and discovered that Pat Mundus, the Society’s director, was on the committee for Slow Food East End. Their conversations moved inevitably to the possibility of a market and, as Bri described the process, “Almost immediately it was like, ‘Let’s do it!’” The Society board was supportive and became their non-profit backer.
Both Bri and Dan — who also happens to be one of two Democratic candidates for a seat on the Town Board in this fall’s elections — are now the unpaid managers of the new endeavor. “We’re doing this as volunteers,” Dan said. “We’re the only farm managers on the East End of Long Island that aren’t paid.” And they prefer it that way. For them to be paid, “It would require the market to charge vendors more and we really wanted to keep the prices low. We wanted to encourage individuals to participate. Greenport had to do an immense amount of fundraising to pay their manager and we don’t have the time for that.”
“And it changes the paradigm,” he added. “If you ask for money, if you have sponsors, you’re beholden to their interests. Doing something for free gives you the freedom to make choices.”
And so this coming Saturday, when the market opens for the first time at 10:30 in the morning, all of us will know who to thank. It will continue every Saturday through October 8.