Who was Joe Obbie?

The market began in 1983 when our father, Joe Obbie, saw a couple selling crafts outside his favorite Webster diner. He asked if he could join them to sell produce from his farm. By agreeing to let our father set up shop, they were doing more than just inviting in one farmer. They were tapping into a network of local farmers since our father was a lifelong resident of the town — and a master at social networking, motivated by a passion to preserve Webster’s farming heritage.

Joe started recruiting other farmers he knew, and the market was born. It moved to the other end of the same parking lot, where it remained for several years. Once it outgrew its corner of that village parking lot, it moved to another. Eventually, that proved too limiting as well. The expanded market finally found its current home, which had unlimited space for the many farmers and craftspeople who wanted to participate, and importantly, for their customers.

Webster had more than doubled in size during Joe’s adulthood since the 1950s, with housing and commercial developments crowding out farms and vacant land. Joe grew up on a small farm where his father, Charlie, grew potatoes and celery that he sold at the Rochester Public Market. Joe eventually became his father’s business partner, until their small farm proved inadequate to support Joe’s growing family and he went to work at the town’s biggest employer at the time, Xerox. In his later years, Charlie started a popular farm stand in front of his house to sell all kinds of vegetables. After he died in 1980, Joe, who lived next door and who had planted acres of grapes, apples, and garlic to serve as his retirement “hobby,” started his own farm stand.

Because there were fewer and fewer working farms in the town, Joe believed it was essential to give the many new residents of the town a way to connect with Webster’s farming heritage. Now, the farmers market gave him a way to spread that message to the entire community, and not just to the people who drove by his farm. He and our mother, Pat, worked tirelessly to recruit vendors and manage and promote the market for more than 20 years. When they were accompanied in their booth by one of us, by their growing brood of grandchildren, or by our younger adopted and foster siblings (Joe and Pat were longtime foster parents and ended up with a household of six or seven kids at any given time).

Just weeks after Joe died of cancer in 2005, our family gathered at the market to celebrate the unveiling of its new name: Webster’s Joe Obbie Farmers’ Market. There could be no more meaningful tribute to his life’s mission than to see that others, aided for many years by Pat, would carry on his work to sustain and improve the market. We are so grateful to the people who have carried that torch since 2005 and work so diligently to make the market a success.

In October 2023, Pat baked her last grape pies and cookies for the vendor booth she ran in the years since her husband’s death. Though she has now “retired” from the market, at age 86, we hope to talk her into coming to the 2024 market (and beyond) to greet customers and tell the story of how this market grew from one farmer to many.

Mark Obbie

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