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By Stephen Press
Hometown Weekly Staff
Just a few steps over the train tracks at Needham Center station, there is a welcome oasis waiting for passers-by. Children and their parents bounce from tent to tent, examining assorted goods and food items. Live music entertains the crowd. Friends converse and laugh.
Summer is upon us, and so is the Needham Farmers Market. The market, now in its fifth year, is slowly but surely gaining a foothold as a treasured community institution. Featuring food, art, music, and other homemade products that can only be purchased here, its appeal is not solely confined to shoppers. Indeed, a look around the premises reveals as many people reveling in the overall experience - the genial "vibe," if you will - as those actively seeking a delicious meal or piece of art.
It's an observation that isn't lost on Tom Gehman, Market Manager.
"We are here to be a community event that brings local food, music and art together in a venue in the middle of Needham every Sunday afternoon in the summer," he says.
For Gehman, that "vibe" is arguably the biggest draw, connecting the Needham of today to its idyllic past. "A hundred years ago, this is the way you would shop," he continues. "This is the kind of a thing that the local people would get together and do out of a sense of community. It's not a thing that makes a lot of money and it's not something you would do if you didn't have some kind of passion for it."
The market started on the front lawn of the Unitarian Church - an ideal location due to its proximity to the Town Common (and the foot traffic that it generates), but ultimately too small for the market's long-term ambitions. Enter the Needham Bank parking lot, which now hosts the weekly market.
"The dream goal for us," Gehman explains, "is to have a roster of 25 vendors and some of those will be rotating. On any given week, you would see about 16 vendors." There are about half of that number now. "I think, at that size, more people would come to the market and we would be growing to a larger capacity, which we want to do."
Gehman takes a moment to accept a cheeseburger from a vendor as he takes in the surroundings that he's been so integral in creating. He smiles, perhaps envisioning a scaled-up version of the scene around him.
Meanwhile, Matt Borrelli, Chariman of the Board of Selectmen, sums it up perfectly as he delivers his welcome address to the vendors and shoppers. The market, he says, is "an opportunity to gather as a community, and that's what makes this so special."
He annunciates over the low rumble of happy children and chatting neighbors.
"These weekly gatherings show our strong sense of Needham community and are one of the reasons this town, to all of us, is so terrific."