Senior Larissa Curlik goes to the Portland Public Market every week, despite the fact that it has been closed since last summer. But shopping is not part of her agenda anyway; she goes to research the market's history and future for her honors project.
Pursuing a self-designed major in environmental design, Curlik has invested a large portion of her senior year into studying agriculture and the ways it impacts communities. Curlik's interest in local farmers' markets sprung from her frequent childhood visits to them. As a sophomore, she visited the Portland Public Market but was disappointed to see such potential being wasted.
With a course load that includes environmental science, visual art, and sociology, Curlik finds influences in many disciplines. In a recent architecture class, she studied urban planning and was able to apply it to this project.
"I learned that one institution can transform so much social and economic energy in one specific area," Curlik says.
With the assistance of her three faculty advisors, Curlik is researching the first year-round public farmers' market in Portland, which opened in the early 1800s. Initially envisioned and funded by Maine philanthropist Elizabeth B. Noyce, the market reopened in 1998. Noyce died before it opened, but she had hoped that the market would eventually revitalize the city while celebrating Maine's rich food traditions.
Upon Noyce's death, the Portland Public Market was handed over to the Libra Foundation, which Noyce established in 1989. Last summer the Libra Foundation sold the $9 million structure, which was built specifically to house the farmers' market, to Guggenheim Real Estate LLC.
"I've yet to hear explicitly why the market was sold, but from what I understand, it was losing money and it seems like it was becoming too much of a financial burden," Curlik says.
Curlik is currently investigating reasons for the market's failure to sustain. The majority of her research consists of interviews with vendors who once worked at the market. She has been able to contact most of the 28 vendors with help from the director of the market, Ted Spitzer. Spitzer has catalogued magazine and newspaper articles relating to the market since its closure in the summer of 2006. His archives are essential to Curlik's research.
After conducting numerous interviews in person and through e-mails, Curlik admits that a new motivation has evolved. She describes the number of people who have poured their lives into the market and the risks they took.
"It is a challenge talking to those who were once involved in the market," Curlik says.
"I hear their stories and want to make sure that I do them justice," she says.
According to Curlik, several of her interviewees express interest in re-creating the market in a different location. Four of the previous vendors have banded together and moved to Monument Square with plans to re-open their businesses. Farmers and restaurant owners remain invested in this venture and hope to see a new market impact Portland in ways that the previous one failed.
In the early years of the market, the planning board and vendors envisioned it becoming everything from a local resource to a tourist destination. However, these expectations fell short.
In response to a desire to reestablish a market Curlik says, "It could work, but it would have to be a community effort. Maine has a lot to celebrate and it would be wonderful to bring that in and make a public market work in Portland."
Asked what the biggest challenge of her project is, Curlik emphasized the size of the project and discussed how difficult it is to keep revising her perspective on the market.
"This project has given me the opportunity to pursue a passion and has been the most fulfilling academic endeavor of my Bowdoin career," says Curlik.