By Various Contributors from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Middlebury
Six a.m. Saturday, July 6. Parishioners of Saint Stephens in Middlebury began hauling goods to outdoor tents for the annual Peasant Market — all the while casting anxious glances skyward. Weather forecasts predicted a series of violent thunderstorms starting the hour before the market opened and continuing for much of the day. Yet somehow the sun kept shining and when finally, the dark clouds rushed in, the heavens opened, and the rain beat down with howling winds whipping it in all directions, the annual event was just an hour from closing. Thanks be to God!
This year’s Peasant Market raised $24,500 which will largely be donated to area charities once expenses are covered. “Peasant Market is a key part of our outreach to the community,” said 2019 Peasant Market Co-Chair Joe McVeigh. “It’s an important way we serve.” Dating back to the 1940s, Peasant Market is a well-attended community event, held each year on the Green in Middlebury. Funds raised become part of the church’s outreach budget and are largely returned to the community in the form of grants. Recent beneficiaries include the local community lunch program, along with housing efforts, and programs for young children.
Beginning three weeks in advance of the market, the church building becomes a hive of activity as church and community members donate used goods for sales. Parishioners receive, sort, and price the incoming items and package them up for the day of the sale. Tents are erected on the town Green, and when the big day arrives, beginning at an early hour of the morning, a small army of volunteers carries the goods out onto the Green where they are set up for display. Most items are outdoors, but some (including books and clothes) remain in the church building. Yellow caution tape is stretched around the tents to give volunteers time to set up their wares before the eagerly circling public can descend. Then promptly at nine a.m. the market begins.
Staples of the market are a children’s activity area and a giant sale of donated books, music, clothes, jewelry, toys, sporting goods, garden accessories, plants, household goods, furniture, arts, antiques, and collectibles. This year the newly renovated chapel was reserved as a place for quiet contemplation, prayer, or a respite from the hustle and bustle of the day.
Each year, a group of parishioners known at the Saint Stephen’s Boatwrights build a hand-made watercraft to be raffled off. This year’s creation was a beautifully constructed stand-up paddleboard, with a Hawaiian-themed deck. Raffle tickets are sold in the period leading up to the big day, especially on the Fourth of July when a crew of stalwart church members march in the Fourth of July parade in neighboring Bristol, displaying the craft, and selling raffle tickets as they go. The winner of the raffle is drawn in the early afternoon of Peasant Market Day.
Food is another key ingredient of the day. A lunch grill is available at noon. On a hot and humid day, fresh-squeezed lemonade was a big hit. And the baked goods table did a brisk business, selling a variety of delicious creations made over the previous week by parishioners, including nearly a hundred freshly baked pies.
The day before the market itself is known as Pie Day. Volunteers work side by side all day making peach, raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb, blueberry, and apple pies. Throughout Pie Day, as volunteers in other departments make final preparations throughout the church, the smell of baking fruit and crust wafts throughout the building. Heavenly!
After the storm struck, winds knocked down just one of the tents but no one was injured. The cheerful, if bedraggled, volunteers managed a creditable clean-up operation, drying off table tops and unsold goods and scrounging dry cardboard boxes book sales and other indoor booths still had a good stash).
The spirit of Peasant Market, among both church workers and customers, is always joyful even if skies turn dark and some significant rain comes down. Next summer, 2020, an extensive bridge and rail construction project planned for downtown Middlebury adjacent to Saint Stephen’s will render the town Green unusable. The church expects Peasant Market to take place on Saturday, July 11, 2020, at the Memorial Sports Center, at 269 Buttolph Drive in Middlebury. The Memorial Sports Center is removed from the construction site, offers ample parking, and greater protection from the wind and weather. Mark your calendar now!
View the online gallery of Peasant Market photos by Jason Duquette-Hoffman.
Featured photo also by Jason Duquette-Hoffman.