NORWICH, Vt. (AP) — Fans of Jinny Hardy Cleland's African honey bread, her ever-changing array of sweets and her bright-colored pansies might have to look just a little bit harder to find them in the future.
Last Saturday, Cleland packed up her corner booth at the Norwich Farmers Market for the last time, ending nearly 40 years as a fixture at the busy market.
"I've not had a weekend off for 40 years. It's time," said Cleland, sitting on a well-worn sofa in her home at Four Springs Farm in Royalton.
She'll be back, but not every week, and not in the spot where area localvores could count on seeing her decade after decade, behind a display that wrapped around one edge of the market and beckoned passersby with its jars of cookies, stacks of fresh eggs and rows of jewel-colored jams.
Originally from suburban New Jersey, Cleland moved to the area shortly after graduating from college, as part of the back to the land movement of the 1970s. After getting married in 1979, she and her husband, William Cleland IV, rented a place in West Hartford and decided to try their hand at farming.
In 1981, with twin babies at home, Cleland set up her first booth at the Norwich Farmers Market, which had started just a few years before. That year she sold a half-dozen varieties of winter squash, much of which they'd grown to feed their pigs.
Over the years, the booth expanded and evolved, reflecting changes in farming and in Cleland's own life. After focusing mostly on vegetables for several years, she started baking to use the milk and eggs from the farm, and after successfully selling baked goods in area co-ops, began bringing them to the market.
Cleland split up with her husband (now deceased) in 2001 and bought the 70-acre parcel on Gee Hill Road. After nine years of living in a mobile home on the property, she built a house with a big, well-appointed kitchen. That's when the baking business really took off.
Cleland declined to say how much she sells at the market each week, but was happy to share a glimpse of her Friday routine as she prepared for market. As mid-afternoon rolled around, she was kneading dough for African honey bread in an enormous metal bowl. An index card with the recipe — which she adapted from a '70s era Time Life cookbook — lay on the windowsill.
Behind Cleland, a pan of square shortbread cookies sat cooling on a multi-tiered cookie rack one of her sons built for her. They would soon be joined by numerous other varieties.
"When I do cookies, I've got four trays waiting to go in, four in the oven and four cooling," said Cleland, who likes to listen to audio books as she bakes.
Then there are the jams — 30 varieties, made from her own fruits and berries — sweet rolls, scones, granola and dried herbs.
What Cleland brings to market each week varies. And while she's got her setup down to a science — using five wooden racks that function as shelves in the car and convert into tables at the market — the booth never looks quite the same from week to week. Her background is in design, and she considers her display a form of art.
It's not the only booth that dates to the market's infancy, but that artful display has served as a prominent feature of the market for years. "She's been kind of an anchor in one corner of the market as long as I've known her," said market manager Steve Hoffman.
Cleland plans to do at least three winter markets — the weekend before Thanksgiving and the two December markets — and tentatively plans to be back at the outdoor market as a "day vendor" about six to 10 times next year. Fans of her treats and plants can sign up for her email list so they'll know when she'll be at the market. She won't have a regular spot, though.
"They'll have to hunt for me," she said.
As she scales back at the market, Cleland, who is in her 70s, will keep busy at the farm, growing herbs and berries, tending to her chickens and running the campground and educational center she's developed at the picturesque property.
With her five children settled into other careers, she's also looking for someone to partner with her on the farm, build their own home there and help her run the campground.
Meanwhile, the market board will have to decide how to replace Cleland.
"It's unclear as to how that corner will be treated, whether we'll have a larger vendor take up the whole space or break it up into a couple of spaces," Hoffman said.
It's not terribly difficult for new vendors to get into the market, he said, but full-season spots get snapped up like African honey bread.
"Those spaces," Hoffman said, "are fairly hard to come by."
Information from: Lebanon Valley News, http://www.vnews.com