RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — Shoppers who want the best fresh produce, even in winter, can find local organic produce every day at the Famers Market Co-op that opened in October at 22 Catoonah St. in Ridgefield.
Its founder is Sandra Sutila, a Redding resident who wanted to fill a void left when the farmers market, formerly in front of the Community Center, closed. And she wanted to fill that need year-round.
"I grew up in Ohio with co-ops, so understood their core meaning to a community. I found myself running around for hours to different farmers and farmers markets to find everything I needed," she told Daily Voice.
"We're the second co-op in the state of Connecticut with 100 percent local, 100 percent organic food displayed by farm name."
Farmers belong to the co-op, name their price for their products and receive 80 percent from the sale at the co-op. Participating farms include Apple Ridge Farm, Hickories Farm and Simpaug Farm, all in Ridgefield; Steitzel Farm in Redding; Meetinghouse Farm and Paul's Custom Pet Food in New Milford; Nature View Farm and Sunny Meadows Farm in Bridgewater; and Jane's Good Food in Westport.
To date, the co-op has 168 members, a growing amount based on word-of-mouth from customers and local media, she said.
Since opening, Sutila said she's had 1,200 visitors/customers come into the co-op.
In her marketing research to find suppliers, Sutila visited many area farms and talked to the owners.
"I asked farmers what they liked and disliked about their markets. Their No. 1 pet peeve was manning the stand all day. They hated it. So I got the bright idea of bringing all the farms together under one roof and selling their product for them, and the farmers can go back to farming," she said.
"Then came the question from farmers, if the co-op gets the revenue, how do they stay in business? The idea was born."
Members have special privileges, she said.
"That gives them first access to all produce, members only events (like our farm dinner Feb. 11), free items once per week — today we have free mini-pies from our baker — and most importantly, supporting your local farmer."
On its second floor, the co-op carries retail items such as crafts and pet food. The location next to the post office makes it walking accessible.
The rent is subsidized by Sean and Jacqui Dowd, who own the building, and Ridgefield Bicycle Company, a former tenant.
The market is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays (closed Mondays) at 22 Catoonah St., Ridgefield.