Commentary: Grow downtown Shelton with a Connecticut-grown market for all seasons

Downtown Shelton is a diamond in the rough, but it’s evolving toward perfection.

In March 1975, the great Sponge Rubber factory fire ravaged seven acres of the riverfront. For the next two decades our diamond was like a lump of coal, waiting for the pressure of local commitment to bring forth its potential.

The rich tapestry of the riverfront and the historic brick buildings were overwhelmed by the stagnant detritus of neglect.

Then on June 3, 1997, the Shelton citizens voted to invest in the cleanup and recapture of our riverfront. This referendum was a tipping point. It helped trigger significant and steady infusions of state and federal investment.

In fact, over the last 20 years, Shelton has received bipartisan support from four governors and numerous General Assemblies that have funded a series of environmental cleanups and urban improvements.

Yes, our people and our politicians have been working in the right direction for downtown.

This progress has been a healthy mix of private enterprise and good public policy guided by the steady hand of our mayor’s office.

Many opportunities downtown

Now, in 2014, nearly 40 years after the great fire, many opportunities await that can bring out the sparkle in our diamond.

For one, we can continue the good progress at “The Slab” (oops! I remember Gov. Jodi Rell challenging us to “beautify not only the place but the name”) as a place for people and community. Certainly, Veterans Memorial Park has accomplished that.

Recent news of the Chromium Process cleanup is welcome and a great complement to a decade of improvements including the Shelton Farmers Market, Veterans Memorial, and Rotary Pavilion.

A dramatic new opportunity whose time has surely come now awaits us  — a greatly expanded (in size and frequency) year-round farmers producer market.

Renewed interest in farming

As I’ve traveled around Connecticut visiting farm and conservation projects, it is exciting to see renewed interest in agriculture and locally produced food.

With Yankee ingenuity to extend seasons and find niche specialties, our farms are bringing an astonishing variety of products from the field to the forks of us Nutmegger consumers.

Great credit goes to Guy Beardsley and his White Hills farm family, who for over two decades have guided the nascent Shelton Farmers Market. They cultivated its beginning.

Now it is time to grow the market to the next level of potential.

Shelton has both location and infrastructure (thanks to our beloved former State Rep. Dick Belden) to grow the market — for Shelton farmers and for other Connecticut farmers to share their specialties.

They range not merely from apples to zucchini, but meats, fish, poultry, dairy and the locally grown and processed bounty from Connecticut’s fields, forests and waters.

As noted recently in the Shelton Herald, the Monahans at Stone Gardens Farm are already processing and preserving Shelton’s agricultural bounty for our community’s year-round healthy eating.

Quite simply, Shelton should host one of Connecticut’s premier farmer-producer year-round markets.

An economic leader

After all, Shelton is an economic leader in our region and our state. It would be logical to utilize our strategic location to be one of Connecticut’s leading producer-only, farmers markets.

That’s good for farmers, good for downtown businesses, good for Shelton consumers, and good for all who want to share and grow our sense of community.

Let us come together and hone this market diamond so it sparkles as our city’s crown jewel.

Terry Jones is a fifth generation Shelton farmer. He also served on Shelton’s Conservation Commission from the late 1980s until 2004. He now chairs Connecticut’s Working Lands Alliance, a coalition to protect the state’s vanishing farmlands.