Making bread at the Farmers Market

Beth’s Bakery is open one day a week, but the work never ends.

Doug Reid and Anna Hughes manning the Beth’s Bakery table at the Farmers Market. –File photo by Ralph Stewart

Updated August 19, 2:43 pm

Have you ever thought to yourself: I could set up a booth at the Farmers Market and hang out and make some easy money? Well, you first might want to talk to Doug Reid and Beth Kramer, a husband and wife team that runs Beth’s Bakery (formerly Biga Bakery) — they’ve been a fixture at the West Tisbury Farmers Market for about 15 years.

In 1993 Ms. Kramer started making bread and selling it to Cronig’s and Stop & Shop under the Biga label. Three years later, she and Mr. Reid opened up a bakery/deli called Biga next to the West Tisbury Post Office which eventually closed in 2005. But Islanders hooked on Biga’s baked goods were still able to buy them at the farmers’ market at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. The market is open Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer season and on Saturdays until Columbus Day weekend. There’s also a winter market held at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury, which is held on Saturdays through December 17. “Over the years, we’ve sold in all of the markets, but right now we just sell in the Saturday summer market,” said Mr. Reid. “It’s a lot of work.” Especially when you factor in that Ms. Kramer has a full-time job: the West Tisbury library director. Fortunately they do have some assistance; Linda Hughes has been helping them sell at the market since the beginning.

Beth’s Bakery sells about eight different kinds of breads as well as pizza, scones, coffee cakes, rugala, cookies, and their biggest seller — biscotti. It’s also hard to say when their work week begins because, in truth, it never ends. But the big push comes on Friday before the Saturday market.

Every Friday, Beth bakes breads from 2 in the afternoon until 2 in the morning. Then she grabs a few hours sleep and both she and Doug start in again at around 5 am, making french bread and pizzas. Doug then has to set up and sell at the market, which lasts until around 12:30 pm. He’s home by around 1 so he can clean the bakery and start preparing for the upcoming week, making scone mix and rugala dough. On Sunday he starts rolling the rugala dough and the cookie dough; Mondays and Tuesdays he starts making biscotti because they’ll keep until the weekend; on Wednesdays he makes the coffee cakes, Thursdays are for cookies and Fridays he makes scones and then in the afternoon, Beth comes home and the whole cycle begins again.

As a food vendor at the Farmers Market, you have to be registered with the town and have a commercial kitchen. “Our kitchen is attached to our house — in fact it’s as big as our house,” said Mr. Reid. It was actually built to handle the overflow from Biga back in the nineties but it’s still going full time. “We have a four-deck bread oven, two convection ovens, a 60-quart mixer, a walk-in cooler, a dough retarder, and of course all the bread pans — we probably go through about 300 pounds of flour a week,” said Doug.

This year there are 40 vendors at the West Tisbury Farmers Market. The market requires that the vendors be comprised of two-thirds farmers and one-third value added vendors. “A value added product,” explained Mr. Reid, “means that it must be a product that goes along with a farm product, so in our case bread goes along with cheese or beef so it qualifies.”

To be a vendor at the West Tisbury Farmers Market, you have to abide by about a dozen simple rules such as no smoking, and all food vendors must prepare food in a board of health-certified kitchen but all in all, compared to off-Island markets, they’re not terribly strict. Vendors also have to pay a fee to sell in the market: $450 for Saturdays, $250 for Wednesdays for the summer season.

But the rewards can be high. “We might sell 150 loaves of bread a day — we sold 80 packages of biscotti just last week,” said Mr. Reid. “We’re as busy in three hours at the farmers’ market as we were all day at Biga.”

And if you’ve ever been to the market, you know that Beth’s Bakery is not the only one who’s busy.

“Just look at the egg roll people,” said Mr. Reid, “there’s a huge line of people there from 9 until noon … Chilmark Coffee — they’re jammin’ … and the flower people have six or seven helpers making bundles of flowers and there’s still a line. It’s kind of like a carnival.”

While the spirit of the market has remained the same over the years, Mr. Reid has noticed a subtle change. “When we first started, a lot of the visitors who came to the Island stayed in a hotel or at a B&B and now so many people have summer homes … and these people tend to want to eat  and cook at home — which is good for the Farmers Market.”

So business is good but Mr. Reid will tell you, it’s not the only reason he enjoys selling at the West Tisbury Farmers Market.

“One reason I like it so much is I’ve had customers since Biga and I know they’re going to be here the second week in July and they’re going to buy x, y, and z … it’s just a joy to see them. They’re not friends of mine per se, but they’ve been a part of my summer experience for 20-plus years.”