Saaremaa is an island, Estonia’s largest, and also the name of one of the 15 counties into which the Baltic country is divided. The county, which measures around 100 kilometers at its widest part, also comprises other smaller islands, including Muhu, Ruhnu, Abruka and Vilsandi. Its capital is Kuressaare, a town with a population of about 15,000, and it is here, in a small square along the main street, that the Saaremaa Earth Market was first held, on July 19 and 20, 2017. The island is a popular tourist destination in the summer, and a farmers’ market represents an opportunity to interest its many visitors in the local food products and culture.
The market has been started thanks to the work of the local convivium, in collaboration with producers’ associations and local public authorities and with the support of Latvia’s Earth Market in Straupe. The Estonian Terra Madre communities are regular participants in the market, including the salted dried flounder producers (who in 2012 started the Slow Food convivium), the Saaremaa rye bread bakers and some of the county’s organic farmers. In total the market involves 14 producers from the county.
The Saaremma Earth Market is a sign of a greater awareness around local food that has developed in recent years. A decade ago, nobody cared about local production, and even the island’s restaurants concentrated mostly on a few ingredients—primarily potatoes and pork—and used mostly industrial suppliers. But now it is possible to find small-scale organic growers who produce quality preserves on the island, for example. Only cheese and other dairy products, and cured meats and other meat products consumed on the island arrive from further away. This is essentially due to the hygiene and food safety rules that make it hard for small-scale local producers to process small amounts of meat or milk on their own farms.
Shoppers at the Earth Market can find organic fruit and vegetables; juices and preserves of different fruits; honey; sourdough bread and biscuits made from locally grown rye, spelt and buckwheat; organic eggs, meat and milk from a farm in Vaivere; liqueurs made from berries picked on the island; salted dried flounder and herring; and wild mushrooms and herbs found in the local forests. The salted dried flounder and the oat biscuits known locally as kaeraküpsis are both Ark of Taste products.
Twice a year, at Christmas and in July, special editions of the market are held in the nearby village of Vaivere (8 kilometers from Kuressaare), with around 30 producers, including some invited from the mainland and from the Straupe market, held in Latvia on the other side of the Gulf of Riga. The market is set up in a green space owned by the village and Taste Workshops, cultural activities, music performances, ethnic dances and tastings are also organized during the day.
Main street in Kuressaare, and, twice a year, the village of Vaivere.
The market is held from June to December: once a week from June to October and once a month from October to December.