A market grows in Black Rock

Farmers’ market sets up in field behind St. Ann Church Saturdays starting June 7

Michelle Margo and Karyn Leito were at a concert at St. Ann Church in Black Rock last summer when they had the idea to launch a farmers’ market.

“It started when we were sitting at a concert on that field,” Leito said.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Peter Lynch, was encouraging.

“They wanted to utilize [the field] to build community events and things like that,” Leito said.

About 10 years ago, there had been a small farmstand there, very briefly.

“It only lasted a few weeks,” Leito said.

But the two Black Rock local moms — both into healthy eating — had the same philosophies on locally grown food and felt they could start something solid and sustainable there.

The field, next to the church — at 481 Brewster St. — is where the new Black Rock Farmers’ Market will host its opening day Saturday, June 7, from 9 until 1. The market will run through Oct. 25.

The road to market

Margo and Leito really did not know what they were getting themselves into when they started — but have had a great time discovering the path.

“It’s been such positive energy everywhere we went,” Leito said.

According to the two market organizers, every question they have asked has received a yes answer. Even from the city of Bridgeport.

“They’ve been amazing,” Margo said.

And even though they did not know what they were doing when they started, they just kept finding their way.

“Every time we hit a road block, within a day something’s happened,” Margo said.

The way to make it happen kept appearing.

“It’s been miraculous,” Leito said.

What is Black Rock like?

Their biggest obstacle?

“People who don’t know what Black Rock is like,” Leito said.

She said some people have a negative image of Bridgeport.

“That needs to change,” Leito said. “There are a lot of very creative, supportive people living in Black Rock.”

When they created the Facebook page for the market, within 24 hours they had 500 likes.

Margo said that they have had tremendous support from the community with people willing to help.

“[Black Rock] has a ton of community spirit,” Leito said.

Leito and Margo both live in the immediate neighborhood of the market and feel like the people there are an extended family.

Leito grew up in Bridgeport and Margo grew up in Fairfield but moved to Black Rock in her 20s.

“And fell in love with it,” Margo said.

The neighborhood stands out for them due to its own distinct personality.

“We don’t have Starbucks, we have Source,” Leito said of the Black Rock coffee shop.

Organic peas in a local pod

In addition to their roles as market organizers, Margo is a freelance marketing consultant and Leito is a professional photographer. They met through their children. Margo has two sons and Leito has three sons.

In order to keep up with their workloads and families they have had to keep long hours.

“There’s a lot of nights and weekends,” Margo said.

But it’s worth it.

“I couldn’t work this hard at something I didn’t care about,” Margo said.

Sometimes one of them will see an email come in from the other at 4 a.m. and know they are both awake.

“As it gets closer, it seems like more and more time is taken up,” Leito said.

Good thing they have supportive, albeit neglected, families.

Still, they know that their children are reaping benefits already. They are becoming conscious of what they are putting in their mouths and the fact that food grows somewhere.

Margo said that her son who complains surprised her one night. When she was tucking him in, he told her he was proud of her.

“They’re needling us, [but] they’re learning,” Leito said.

Two of their sons even chose topics for essays that suggest a little bit of their mothers’ passion for healthy food is rubbing off. Leito’s son wrote about how he thinks eating local food affects biodiversity, while Margo’s son wrote about how the “all natural” label is misleading.

“He would not have thought of that if not for the market,” Margo said.

“He’s listening,” Leito said.

Eat healthy, shop Black Rock

The market will feature vendors from several area towns, including Easton, Stratford, Trumbull, Fairfield, Stamford, Redding, Westport, New Fairfield and Wilton.

There are two caveats for vendors.

“They have to grow the food and it’s organic,” Margo said.

There will be vegetables, fruit, eggs, cheese, maple syrup, honey, coffee, tea, baked goods, soaps and more. The market will host children’s activities.

The market is participating in the federal nutrition program. Vendors will be accepting U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) checks (issued to seniors and participants of the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children). They will also accept checks from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.

They are raising money to double benefits when people use the checks at the market.

“We will match up to $6 for them to buy fresh produce,” Margo said.

They are part of a network of six Bridgeport farmers’ markets raising money to supplement the checks. The other five are: East End Market, East Side Market, St. Vincent Farm Stand, South End Fresh Market and Downtown Bridgeport Market.

“We really hope to be able to help those other markets as well,” Leito said.

Leito and Margo want their market to extend to people in other towns.

“It can reach other communities, not just Black Rock,” Leito said.

They hope that people will come because their community will welcome one and all.

“Be part of our family,” Leito said.

Learn more by finding the Black Rock Farmers’ Market page on Facebook or visit blackrockfarmersmarket.com.

Karyn Leito and Michelle Margo visit St. Ann Field, 481 Brewster St., Black Rock, where the new Black Rock Farmers Market will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday from June 7 through Oct. 25. (Laura Modlin Photo)

Karyn Leito and Michelle Margo visit St. Ann Field, 481 Brewster St., Black Rock, where the new Black Rock Farmers Market will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday from June 7 through Oct. 25. (Laura Modlin Photo)

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