We talk about the Martha’s Vineyard outdoor market community a lot. Every fair we vend at on the mainland, we find ourselves reminiscing about the Chilmark Flea, the Artisans Festival, and the Featherstone Flea. Other vendors we’ve met are impressed by our setup and break-down speeds, a practice honed doing five shows a week on-Island. Our booth setup became a science. The other artisans became close friends, and repeat customers became familiar faces. Once we started shows throughout Massachusetts and across New Hampshire, the game abruptly changed. New places, new politics, and new social artisan bubbles emerged. We were the new kids on the block every time, and our house was parked in the back lot.
We’ve had good fairs and bad when it comes to sales. The bad included freak mountain windstorms and unfriendly booth neighbors. No matter what, the most valuable experiences have always come from the individuals we meet.
On a particularly hot and sticky day this past August at the Chilmark Flea, Walker and I were just starting to pack up when a middle-aged couple came into our booth. We sparked a conversation immediately, and soon we were exchanging cards and emails. Their names were David and Catherine, the owners of Emery Farm in Durham, N.H. David explained how he was looking for more art and innovation for their quickly expanding farmstand. They extended an invitation to come and stay whenever. Trying not to sound overly excited, we explained that we were hitting the road with our mobile art studio, and coincidentally were looking for places to land.
Three months later, we were towing our trailer through the middle of New Hampshire. “I can’t believe we met these folks once and talked with them for 10 minutes, and now we are heading to their house,” I said to Walker as he fumbled with his phone, trying to get service for the GPS. Cell service never exists when you need it most. He gave a “well, here we go anyway” shrug, and I gripped the wheel tighter. I had a feeling they would have a complicated driveway I’d have to back into once we arrived.
We finally arrived at Emery Farm, and to my dismay there was a curving driveway on a steep incline that I had to back the trailer into. The farmhouse was perched on a hill surrounded by old glowing maples and a massive barn. The farmstand was next door, bustling with customers, and had a full parking lot. Catherine came out to greet us, and again my anxiety evaporated. She was happy to see us, and emanated kindness with a laid-back nature. She must have seen my nervousness when showing us where to park, and said she wouldn’t watch. After I backed into the space (and patched up the tire marks in the yard), we got the tour of the farm, and met the family.
Even though we stayed for only a couple of days, the experience was inspiring. One of the oldest farms in the country, it has been in David’s family since 1660. Their beautiful home is adorned with art from their travels and painted portraits of past family members gazing out from behind old frames. The barn was open, and the wind blew through its creaking beams. The light had a particular way of leaning against the dusty walls as the massive spruces and maples scattered shadows outside. The farmstand was alive with customers ordering coffee and hot apple-cider doughnuts, while kids in school programs waited for hayrides and farm tours. The store was filled with local goodies from veggies, cheese, and yogurt to artwork. Its location on Route 4, outside Portsmouth, N.H., provided a perfect combination of bucolic scenery and accessibility. It was so humbling to be warmly welcomed by David and Catherine’s family and the farm staff. It was also inspiring to see the amount of passion they had for their home and the land it stood on.
We left them some prints for the farm store before we moved onto our next destination. The next couple of fairs, we began to feel a part of the off-Island market scene. We began to recognize vendors and booths from other shows. After setting up, I’d browse up and down the rows of other makers, waving to the lantern lady, chatting with the basket-weaving guy. Maybe our next show in Springfield will gift new invitations, new destinations, and new friendships.