By Jim Haddadin
From The Metrowest Daily News— It was a celebration of seafood, local commerce and family fun Saturday as the Ashland Farmers Market hosted its annual Lobster Fest.

Some 25 vendors and an estimated 1,500 people converged downtown for the weekly market, which featured a team of chefs serving up lobster rolls and corn on the cob.

Steve Mitchell, one of the market’s organizers, said Lobster Fest serves as a customer appreciation day for the market, which sees a spike in attendance each year during the event.

“It’s … become one of our signature events, and very well attended,” Mitchell said.

Meals were prepared Saturday by chefs from The Carve and ingredients were provided by market vendors, including Sunshine Farm and Jordan Brother’s Seafood. With financial support from Needham Bank, Mitchell said the market pays a large share of the food costs, helping to lower the price to only $15.

Organizers expected to serve up about 500 plates during this year’s festival, which included a musical performance by Dale Buchanan, a member of the Ashland Planning Board. While the market often features folk or bluegrass music, Buchanan entertained the crowd with an electric guitar, donning a blonde wig and performing rock and roll hits, accompanied by virtual performers on a series of video screens behind him.

Now entering its fifth year, the Ashland Farmers Market was created by members of a community gardening organization. Its mission is to provide a venue for local farmers to sell their products while also increasing awareness about nutrition and sustainable agriculture.

The market sees an average of about 1,200 visitors each week, with attendance spiking during the opening day of the season and “dog day,” when customers are encouraged to bring their pets.

With its success building each year, the market increasingly faces the challenge of supplying enough parking for the large crowds, Mitchell said. That’s a good problem to have, Mitchell said, since part of the market’s mission is to bring people downtown.

“It’s been dormant for so many years for a variety of reasons, like a lot of small towns,” Mitchell said, “but at least on Saturday I think we’ve done a good job of bringing people to downtown Ashland.”

Tonya Yaskovich worked Saturday behind an electric pottery wheel, shaping the beginnings of a mug or coffee pot. Yaskovich, a student of pottery maker Debra Griffin, said the pair attend the market to have fun and interact with parents and children who stop by.

“Kids are so smart,” she said, “and they’re so mesmerized by it.”

Griffin, of Ashland, said the weekly market not only gives her a venue to exhibit her pottery, but also strengthens relationships between residents. Griffin said she shops at the market each week, and looks forward to chatting with others in the community.

“You get to know other people in Ashland,” she said. “It’s a huge improvement. I cry every year when they come back.”