Virginia Schaefer’s reusable Trader Joe’s bag was full, green leaves bursting from the top. Inside the bag lay chard, beets, yellow zucchini, fava beans, cucumbers—and she could keep digging.
“I really love vegetables,” said Schaefer, 63, an Arlington resident of 25 years. She stated it plainly but genuinely in a colorful plaid shirt, a visor shading her face Wednesday at the . She was making her weekly purchase at Grateful Farm, her go-to vendor because the produce is “really organic.”
The sun beat down on the asphalt as shoppers like Schaefer made their way among the white tents, some wearing hats, carrying umbrellas, often with a reusable bag, or cooler, in hand.
The weekly market typically hosts 19 vendors and brings a diverse clientele of all ages, according to Market Manager Patsy Kraemer. Vendors enjoy the market because of the friendly crowd and large amount of business, they said. Many attendees said they frequent the 14-year-old market on a weekly basis, and knew exactly what they wanted.
“This is the best bread in the world, and I’ve been all over the world,” Charlotte Keys, who has lived in Arlington for 11 years, said after just purchasing a loaf of whole wheat from the Mamadou’s Artisan Bakery tent.
“I’ll tell him,” Catherine Palmer, who was working the tent, said, overhearing Keys’ comment.
“He knows,” said Keys. She has tried each of the bakery’s breads, which include varieties such as the most popular French baguettes, along with cranberry pecan and cinnamon raisin. Mamadou Mbaye bakes the bread in Winchester and has been selling at the market for three years.
“We most definitely have a following,” Palmer said.
The food at the market in the Russell Common’s parking lot in Arlington Center ranges from local fish to leafy vegetables to Thai Basil iced tea. Some of the vendors have been there since the start of the market in 1997. The market is held every Wednesday from 2 to 6:30 p.m. through mid-October. Most of the vendors sell local products, though not all are organic.
“What I look for is a good balance,” Kraemer said in regards to choosing the vendors, though many were involved before she became manager four years ago. “I like to remember that it’s a farmers market, not a crafts market.”
The market originated with Pat Jones, a woman living at the elderly housing complex across the street from the parking lot, who thought Arlington should have a farmers market. She got in touch with Oakes Plimpton, who was involved with the Somerville farmers market and together they created the market, Kraemer said. Plimpton managed the Arlington market before Kraemer.
Steve Kleinman, 51, said he came to the market in search of one thing: red and green amaranth, which he described as similar to spinach in texture and taste.
“This must be a hot weather crop,” he said, excited that the vendor Hmong Farms, which largely sells Asian and oriental vegetables, had the leafy vegetable this week.
Pang Yang, who was selling vegetables at the Hmong Farms tent, said the farm’s first year at the market was difficult because a lot of people weren’t familiar with the vegetables and how to cook with them. But they now have a regular customer base, she said.
A few tents down, Stephanie Walsh and her 16-year-old son, Matthew, pulled fish in plastic bags from Styrofoam coolers, selling a variety of types, including tuna, sword fish and wild salmon, priced between $10 to $16 a pound.
Walsh said the most popular type of fish among the clients depends on the weather.
“Hot days, sword fish or tuna, rainy days, haddock or cod,” she said, standing in front of a sign that read “fresh fish.” They purchase their fish through Globe Fish with most from the coast between New Bedford and Gloucester, though some, like the salmon, comes from Alaska.
Wendy Longland, who grew up on Kimball Fruit Farm, said the Pepperell farm has been selling at the Arlington market since it started. The farm contains about 120 acres and they grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, particularly 78 types of tomatoes, she said.
Longland said the farm does especially well at the Arlington market, one of 15 where the farm sells.
“I think it’s the quality,” she said about what keeps customers returning each year.
Though the hot July day didn’t bring what vendors described as the mobs that swarm the market during the later months, the flow of people was steady and the greetings were lively.
“The way the market is set up, I think of it as people coming to the village well, and it really enhances the social aspect of the market,” said Kraemer, who manages the market and bought some salads from seasonal American cuisine restaurant, Flora, for dinner. “I think that’s special to Arlington.”