Sign up for our Newsletter

Riverhead officials had been kicking around the idea of an indoor farmers market for some time, but it was a conversation between Mattituck poultry farmer Holly Browder and former neighbor Christine Kempner that finally ignited the event. 

Ms. Browder, who owns the organic poultry farm Browder’s Birds with her husband, Chris, tapped into her connections in the East End farming community to sell them on the untested idea of year-round Riverhead market — a task easier said than accomplished.

But less than two months later, the weekly event was on.

Holly Browder at the Riverhead Farmers Market this summer. (Credit: Vera Chinese)
Holly Browder at the Riverhead Farmers Market this summer. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

On the Riverhead Farmers Market’s opening day people stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a long-vacant Main Street storefront, happy to have a central spot to get free-range eggs, artisanal chocolate and locally grown mushrooms.

“She was like the vendor corral-er, trying to balance the right type of vendors,” said Ms. Kempner, director of Riverhead’s Community Development Agency. “She really hustled. These ideas, they’re not easy to get done.”

Ray Pickersgill, president of the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association, which sponsors the market, agreed.

“If you travel this country, in every city on their main street, they have a farmers market,” he said. “I had been talking about doing a winter market for years. She was able to get the farmers to participate.”

The event not only brings droves of people downtown every weekend, it provides East Enders with year-round access to locally produced goods and gives artisans and farmers a way to connect with customers during the slower season.

“It’s been one of the more successful downtown projects in terms of foot traffic generation,” Ms. Kempner said. “It adds texture and community to Riverhead.”

For her efforts in launching the year-round Riverhead Farmers Market, we honor Holly Browder as our first-ever Northforker Person of the Year.

Mr. Browder said his wife is passionate about supporting local food producers and sustainable farming.

“She wants the small farmers out here to succeed. It’s something she wants for all of us,” he said. “A rising tide floats all boats. She wants everybody who is legitimate in small farming to be successful if they can.”

He credited her friendly personality for helping make the farmers market a success.

“I think people in general like Holly, she’s very outgoing,” he said. “She’s a master at marketing, public relations, social media. She’s really, really good at that. It’s helped us in our business enormously.”

Vendor Luchi Masliah of Gula Gula Empanadas noted that the market draws from both forks and west of Riverhead, which expands the reach of a small company like hers. That exposure will be especially helpful when she opens her first storefront in Mattituck this spring.

“The winters can be very long sometimes, because we don’t have access to the customers who frequent the farmers market,” Ms. Masliah said. “To open those doors for all of us really created an opportunity.

“With the kind of work [Ms. Browder] does, the fact that she has the time to do something like this, is phenomenal,” she continued. “She comes across as somebody who totally loves what she’s doing. She seems dedicated to her work.”

Thomas Hart, a 30-year-old livestock farmer who interned with the Browders after graduating from college, described Ms. Browder as kind and patient with her customers and livestock.

Plus, he said, her cooking gave him the sustenance he needed to endure a long day on the farm.

“I told Chris the only reason I continued to come back to processing days was because Holly always made us lunch,” Mr. Hart said. “But in all seriousness, my wife and I have become good friends with Holly and Chris over the years and I give them both a ton of credit in helping me get to the point I’m at right now.

“I give her a lot of credit for spending all the time and effort to foster a community of sustainable-minded farmers on the North Fork,” he said.

Mr. Browder admitted life as poultry farmers isn’t a walk in the park, as the work is physical and their animals need to be fed 365 days a year. Still, he said, they’re glad they chose this path.

“It’s fun being entrepreneurs, creating our own farm and business,” he said. “We much prefer living this lifestyle.”

[email protected]