By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Ann and Scott Weldon came looking for tarragon, and lingered over sugar snap peas and zucchini.
“I've had the flyer for the farmers market hanging up on the fridge for weeks,” said Scott Weldon, hinting that the anticipation in the Weldon household was measurable. “This is great.”
The Derry couple ad their daughter, Janelle, make a point of eating organic produce whenever possible.
Now that the town will be open air farmers market central every Wednesday, the possibilities for fresh fruit, vegetables, baked goods, organic eggs, meat, plants, and confections are endless.
Yesterday Lorraine Merrill, Commissioner for the state Department of Agriculture Markets a & Food, made the rounds, impressed with what the community had managed to pull together in a matter of months. She said Derry is part of a national agricultural boomlet reflected here in New Hampshire as well – there are more than 80 farm markets doing business this season, up by more than a dozen over last year.
“People are clamoring for fresh, locally grown food. As a result, we are seeing an increase in the number of farms,” said Merrill.
It's a trend that has spawned at least two new buzz words – locavore, which defines those who are interested in eating food that is locally produced, and agritourism, which is one way some farms, such as apple orchards, have found to diversify and continue to make money in a market saturated with imported produce.
“For example, most of the apples used in the juice industry are imported from China,” said Merrill. “In order to survive, orchards are selling off some of their land, and relying on agritourism to make up for what business has been lost to importation.”
According to the most recent survey by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of New Hampshire farms increased 24 percent between 2002 and 2007, and net sales were up 39 percent over the same time period.
“They survey every five years, so I imagine that the numbers are slightly higher,” Merrill said “But that's a very positive sign.”
She said at the annual Farm and Forest Expo held this year in February, attendees were talking about how fertile the Derry/Londonderry area is for sprouting more local food markets, given the number of regional farmers.
“If people are happy and like what they find, they will come back, and tell their friends,” said Merrill. “To sustain a market like this, you need a balance of vendors, and this one seems to have it all.”
Allison Viger of Chester said she and her daughter Adrianna, were checking out some handmade soaps at the Wicked Good Soaps table. Their strategy was to buy anything that looked good. So far, that included some lemon coconut squares and blueberry muffins from Jamie's Sweet Temptations, and two pints of raspberries.
“Now we're looking for fresh corn,” said Viger.
There will be a learning curve for vendors, who will have to gauge how many bushels of zucchini – or beets or peas or radishes or eggs – to tote to market each week.
“We're all sold out,” said Patrick Connelly, who brought a cooler full of organic free range chicken eggs from his Chester Field to Fork Farm.
Other local vendors, including J&F Farms and Rig-A-Tony's, were able to send trucks back to home base to restock their stands before the second wave of marketeers came through at 4:30 p.m.
Market manager Bev Ferrante said she was up early yesterday morning, already doing a drive by of the market to make sure the parking barricades she'd put out the night before were still standing.
And she's already fielding calls from more interested vendors, which means she's looking at expansion possibilities.
“This group will become a family in no time,” she said.
Judy Follo of Derry was hovering over produce. She said she already belongs to a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – that delivers fresh produce to customers for pick up at Derry Montessori School.
“This will supplement what we're already getting,” said Follo, who tells the vendor behind the J&F Farms table to add a pint of raspberries to her total after watching her daughter, Angelina, carry them off for a private tasting.
“She's expensive to feed – she likes good food,” Follo said. “But that's OK. This is going to be wonderful for us.”