Nurbu Sherpa of Sherpa FoodsPhoto Credit : Ben Stechschulte
By Lissa Goldstein
Held in the heart of Vermont’s biggest city, the Burlington Farmers’ Market has been operating from May through October every year since 1980, save for a pandemic pause. Its nearly 100 vendors offer a huge variety of produce, prepared foods, crafts, and beverages, and each Saturday this bounty draws a few thousand customers amid a Queen City humming with locals and visitors alike. The market offers a place to gather with friends or meet new people, grab a quick bite, and collect groceries for the week.
The vendors have backgrounds as diverse as the products they sell. Some are in their second or third careers and finally giving that long-held dream a shot. Others are making their first foray into entrepreneurship, or taking on the family business. During my visits to the market last fall, I spoke with some of them about what they grow or make—something I rarely make time for on my own busy market days as a produce vendor. And I found that, like me and many others who choose to do this work, they share both the desire to live out their dreams and the understanding that real human connection—the kind you find at the farmers’ market—is what makes it possible.
Nurbu Sherpa, 41
South Burlington, VT
Market vendor since: 201
5Products: Momos and other Nepalese foods
“I worked for Macy’s in New York City for about 10 years. I was a business manager at the end, before I left to come to Vermont. We had just had our son, and our parents had been living here for a long time. We used to come up to camp and ski, and we always felt like it was calm and laid-back. When we found out we were pregnant, our parents wanted us to be close so they could see their grandchild. We felt like this was a good place to raise a family.
“I’ve always wanted to start my own business, so I felt like moving was kind of a blessing in disguise. My wife and my mom make really good Nepalese food, so we talked about combining my business background and their food background. But I didn’t want to do a restaurant business—I wanted to do something new. Being in New York City, you can find restaurants from 10 different ethnicities in one block. So we kind of saw an opportunity, because I didn’t see any Nepalese food in stores.
“The market was really important in getting started, just for the exposure. Momos are a very new product here. The first year was all about educating, letting customers know what the food is, where the food came from, and the culture behind it. In 2015 it was just the farmers’ market, and slowly the word started getting out. And then we got into one of the stores here, City Market, and people started making the connection between the farmers’ market and our branding.”
Carey Kolomaznik, 48
South Burlington, VT
Market vendor since: 2013
Product: Pot stickers
“The market has a lot of regular customers who come back every week. I love to see them. People start as a customer, and then after many years they become a friend, and then later on, family.
“We’ve had very strong supporters since day one. I had no idea how great they were until this spring, when I was raising money to open a food cart on Church Street. The opportunity came on quick, and I kind of panicked because I didn’t know where to start. Our customers just said, ‘I’ll help you do a fundraiser.’ After we started the fundraiser, I just realized people love me! I was like, ‘Thank you, guys!’ I’d never asked for help. I was so touched.”
Jason Elberson, 38, and Caitlin Elberson, 35
Market vendor since: 2015
Products: Small-batch fermented vegetables and kombucha
Jason: “We source most of our produce from organic Vermont farmers. We also raise chicken and sheep. This is our ninth year selling fermented food. We started out selling vegetables and wanted to grow most or all of what we process. We quickly found it was easier and better for our business to spend most of our time in the kitchen and then become a customer instead of a competitor to the other organic farmers in the region.
“What I like about being here is that as the owner of the business, I can really talk about it. You know, since we’re not certified organic we can’t put that on our label, so I like being able to explain that and introduce people to our product.
“During Covid, a lot more people felt drawn to supporting local farmers, which is still happening and is great. Vermont’s been doing a good job with that for years.”
Grace Meyer, 38; Justine Bell Lambright, 33; and Kathline Chery, 32
Market vendor since: 2022
Grace: “We started a year and a half ago. Our first harvest and our first year producing wine was 2021. This is our first vintage, and now we’re harvesting and producing for our second vintage.
“We very intentionally started as a worker cooperative. We’d all worked in the food and wine industry. One of my partners is the winemaker, and her background is in farming and wine making. My other partner is kind of the face of the business—they do most of the sales and PR. And I am more administrative. But we all had seen a lot of the problems that came with food and bev, and the power structures, and the limitations of getting into the business if you don’t already have money. So we wanted to form this cooperative as a way to break in and also keep it equitable.
“All the grapes we grow are hybrid grapes that have been bred to succeed in cold climates. With climate change, that’s pretty much the only way anyone is going to be able to grow grapes. We’re seeing that in Europe and California; it’s just not working anymore with Vitis vinifera. So we’re passionate about hybrids. But for the longest time in Vermont, people were taking hybrids and trying to make wines that replicated California cabernets, things like that, but they’re really their own thing! There’s this whole new world of flavor out there with hybrids if you just let them do what they want to do.”
John Brawley, 57
Market vendor since: 2022
Products: Vermont-farmed shrimp and shrimp bisque
“I went to the University of Vermont for undergrad, and I always wanted to come back. I’m a marine ecologist and worked for consulting companies over my professional career, and I also teach environmental science at Champlain College. I used to do coastal restoration projects in marine systems around the world. And then about 20 years ago I started my oyster farm in Duxbury, Massachusetts, and did both simultaneously.
“I started selling oysters up here seven years ago and developed new relationships…. [for instance] I used to set up an oyster bar at Foam Brewery. I moved up here full-time four years ago. I had to build out a calf barn to build the aquaculture components, which took me about five or six months. The first year of production was 2019.
“My plan had always been to start a farm that was a little smaller. I can produce about 100 pounds per week, and it sells out within a few days. The market’s growing.”
Kyle Doda, 37, and Betsy Simpson, 29
Market vendor since: 2015
Products: Eggs, mushrooms, vegetables, fruit
Kyle: “This is a great market. We’ve been doing it for eight years, and every year has gotten better. At the moment, we’re watching these drastic fuel price increases and seeing the cost of food in the grocery stores go up. I haven’t changed the price of our vegetables at all, because my margins are still good. And it’s really attracting customers. A lot of farmers are realizing, hey, let’s take this moment to encourage people to shop locally and see that the value they get is in the quality of food. So those conversations have been happening with customers at the market, and they’ve been responding well. And now I have customers that I wouldn’t normally have, and they’re coming every week. That probably won’t change—usually once we get regulars, they stay. I would say that the Burlington market is thriving.”
Brooke Giard, 32, and Braden Lalancette, 29
Market vendor since: 2020
Product: Cut flowers
Brooke: “I have a background in floristry and Braden had a background in farming, so: flower farming. Every year our business has grown. This is the year that we’re not just thinking about how to get through the day. We have full-time employees now, and we know where our markets are. We were kind of dabbling in things, but we finally figured out what we want to do and are getting better about doing that. It’s nice having employees. We love our crew.”
Cathy Vadnais, 61, and Leo Maguire, 91
Market vendor since: 2018
Products: Milk, yogurt, fresh cheese products, cheesecake
Cathy: “I moved here in ’79. We’re a microdairy—we have three cows. I have a creamery on the premises, and I make everything from the milk that our cows generate.
“This is a very good market. It really puts us over into the profit making. And not that there’s a lot of profit! We do this for love.
“I think one of the biggest parts of our business here is my dad; he’s 90 and he sold auto parts for 60 or 70 years. He takes the bus to the market from Essex and meets me here each week, and he just loves it. The people love him too, and he’s good for sales.”
Leo: “You know, everybody loves food. Milk is one of the oldest products in the world, and you can do so much with a couple of cows and the milk products. One of the surprises for us has been the reaction to our kefir for dogs, the Kanine Kefir. It’s a terrific product for dogs because it’s good for the tummy and it’s also a nice treat.”
Julian Hackney, 36
Market vendor since: 2022
Product: Ginger beer
“This was a passion project for a long time. I started selling it to friends and coworkers as a hobby, and I was just watching the beverage scene grow and seeing a lot of nonalcoholic beverages take off. We’re in a place where everyone is very enthusiastic about craft beer—there’s a trend happening where people are getting away from alcohol but maybe want the same experience.
“Working at [Burlington co-op] City Market provided the groundwork for what I’m doing now. I could see the industry and got a gauge for where I could fit into it and also got experience dealing with local vendors: Working in the receiving department, my job was to check people in, so I was the first face to interact with them. But I started having sleepless nights worrying that I was doing the wrong thing—I wasn’t pursuing my dreams. Once I got to that point, I was like, OK, I have to make a change.
“When I found out I was accepted into the farmers’ market, that’s when I gave my notice. I just knew that I was going to be too busy. When you’re juggling a lot of things, you’re bound to drop a ball and this was not a ball I was willing to drop.”