BRATTLEBORO -- Tropical Storm Irene may have shattered booths and razed the parking lot at the Brattleboro Area Farmers' Market, but it couldn't destroy the spirit of those converging on the popular Western Avenue locale.
On a sunny Thursday morning, an estimated 100 vendors, volunteers and school children tossed on a pair of beat-up jeans and threw a shovel over their shoulder to assist in the scheduled work party to clean up the market's retail space after the property was slammed by Tropical Storm Irene on Sunday.
"When I came down Monday night to see what kind of condition it was in, I was profoundly shocked and I saw no way that they could ever use this site again," said Mary Ellen Copeland, a Dummerston resident and longtime patron of the market. "People love the farmers' market. They really care about the farmers' market, so people are here today."
Coffee and other food donations, like a dozen homemade zucchini peach muffins, were placed near the foot path.
Young children armed with rakes smoothed out the top layer of fresh soil as excavators dumped massive piles in the center of the market. Wheelbarrows loaded with mounds of dirt were a common sight.
Those unable to join the work party prepared food and delivered it to volunteers. The progress was continually posted on multiple social networking pages.
And volunteers kept coming throughout the morning, bringing their own tools to the market and starting work wherever it's needed.
It was organized, but no one was directing.
It was born out of a somber event and turned into a phenomenal community act.
The tiny upper parking lot just off Western Avenue was jammed by 9 a.m., causing incoming volunteers to find spots along the road and on the vacant gas station property.
"It's more than we expected, but on the other hand, we have been getting responses all week long from people who said they want to come and do this. It gives people an opportunity to do something to help out," said David Schoales, co-president with the Board of Directors and a vendor at the market. "It's really terrific. This is a business where 50 people earn a pretty significant part of their income, and just like the home center down the road or the gas station that are getting the equipment in and getting ready to get back in business, we're doing that too."
Copeland showed up shortly after 9:30 a.m. and helped tie up some of the locust tree saplings that serve as dividers for the parking lots. Crews also gathered the posts that Irene picked up and effortlessly hurled down the Whetstone Brook to reinstall the fence. Most of the hands circled around the kiosk in the marketplace center to spread topsoil and grass seed.
A large portion of the rebuilding began earlier in the week.
"The process here has been going on for some days," said Adam Silver, who operates the Dim Sum Tea House with his wife Cai Xi at four regional farmers' markets. Both volunteered at their vending space.
"It's a great group effort here. They're rebuilding the whole ground, rebuilding the sandboxes. Somebody is creating a little stone masonry around the trees so that they won't get suffocated from the extra foot of soil," Silver said. "There was very good organization and coordination here."
Although it sounded more like a construction site than a farmers' market, those noises will change into festive musical tunes and patrons laughing in just a few hours.
"We got people from Massachusetts that are coming, people even further away saying that we're so glad that you'll be open because we're coming for the weekend and we really want to go to the market," Schoales said. His arm was in a homemade slang crafted with an old farmer's market T-shirt.
Each of the more than 50 vendors will have their space available for Saturday. Those without booths will arrive with tables, umbrellas and tents to sell their produce.
"When you look at the pictures from the weekend and you look at today, and you think about what it will look like Saturday, it's sort of a miracle," said Robin Scudder.
Running a sandwich and soup business known as Scudderly Delicious, Scudder was out Tuesday evening as well when some of the initial cleanup efforts began.
"The Board of Directors were incredible. They came in Monday night, they surveyed the damage, they made a plan," she said. Most of the arrangements for construction equipment and earth were made Monday and volunteers cleared debris and straightened out booths the next evening.
When the storm swept through southern Vermont on Sunday, it washed away about half the booths and at least four picnic tables at the site.
Irene's mighty winds and rains flooded the lower parking lot so seriously, it created two large gullies on the driveway. Both were filled in earlier this week.
"It was a mess, it was really a mess," Schoales said.
After several hours at the Brattleboro site, the Silvers prepared for Townshend's market. Like many of the vendors, they can't wait for Saturday to have the farmers' market rise again.
"The market is very much loved and it has a great spirit," Silver said. "I just feel very blessed to be part of this farmers' market. It's a great place."
Chris Garofolo can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.