By CASEY CROUCHER
A Saturday farmers market on Church Street in Amsterdam could open as early as next month, with long-term goals of turning it into a year-round co-op, officials said.
Ben Wallach, marketing director of the Niskayuna Co-op, and Suzanne Carreker-Voigt, a board member of the New York State Farmers Market Federation, met with more than a dozen interested farmers market vendors to discuss the future of the new enterprise at a meeting Wednesday at the United Presbyterian Church.
Wallach wants people to understand that food grown in Montgomery County is being sold in Schenectady, Troy and Albany. It should also be sold at home, he said.
"We're blessed in Amsterdam to be surrounded by a rich agricultural bounty of world-class, gourmet food products that are not for sale in the city," Wallach said. "People of Amsterdam should not have to go to Albany to buy Montgomery County products."
Robert von Hasseln, Amster-dam's director of Community and Economic Development, said the city anticipates putting the farmers market near the Church Street Dunkin' Donuts for the first year, then moving to West Main Street at some point, hoping to emulate the success of the city's Spring Fling.
He said the location is a large city-owned parking lot that runs along the Chuctanunda Creek near the old factory buildings that are now occupied by the Walter Elwood Museum.
"[The farmers market] is going to be a big drawing card," he said. "We think we've located a couple of good spots for you so that you have a city block's worth of space, plus overflow parking that's nearby because we're hoping this is a big success," he said.
"A farmers market is essentially a street fair every Saturday. The city of Amsterdam is totally behind this idea, we'll help out with everything," von Hasseln continued.
Wallach hopes to have the market up and running by July 12, but that's a "big goal." He said it's going to take baby steps before a co-op can be really planned.
Von Hasseln said there's even a possibility of an agreement with nearby building owners to get the market inside in the wintertime, or year-round, if it works out.
He said the old Kelloggs & Miller Linseed Oil Mills buildings would be a good place to house a co-op, if the owners allow it.
Wallach said Montgomery County farmers will get priority for a vending spot in the Amsterdam farmers market before farmers from outside areas. He said the spots are filling up quickly, so anyone interested should make a move soon.
In addition to introducing residents to locally grown products, it would also help the economy, Wallach said.
"This new co-op would be an incubator, job creator and career changer. It would also create a more diversified tax base," he said. "This co-op would promote Amsterdam's agriculture and history, and also be a place for music and crafts."
Carreker-Voigt said a farmers market would bring the community together, but it would need to be promoted.
"Farmers markets do build community," she said. "I coordinated a large farmers market for eight years and I saw it grow as we brought in community tabling and non-profits. The commonality at a farmers market is that everybody eats, so there's no restriction as to who you can promote the market to."
Von Hasseln described the city as "Oz-like" for its proximity to nature and urban areas. He said areas like Amsterdam are destination spots and he thinks a farmers market would help draw tourists to the area.
"You'll have plenty of clients, not just people from Amsterdam, because Amsterdam is going to be the capital city of the lower Mohawk Valley, and the farmers market would be a great site for a destination place," he said.