May 11, 2017
Farmers markets in the Garden State used to mean a roadside shed on a rural road fronting a few acres on the way from here to there, with not much in between
Pick out some sweet corn or blueberries, toss a few bucks in the honor box, and be on your way.
And while those traditional roadside farm stands still exist, the eat-local, buy-local action has growers bringing goods to the downtowns of suburban South Jersey, such as Collingswood, which opened its sprawling farm market last Saturday and Moorestown, which opens this Saturday.
Downtown markets are not just about the holy trinity of Jersey produce – corn, tomatoes and peaches. Foodies at downtown markets also get rarities such as currants, papaws and bison, plus flowers, greenery, seedlings and alpaca wool. Add in food vendors, crafters and organizations doing social outreaches for causes, and you see how the farm stand has morphed.
These markets are as much a social experience as they are about buying – and not just the basic necessities.
As overheard last Saturday in Collingswood, the grand-daddy of downtown farmers markets: “The market is not always about need.”
David Hodges, who manages Collingswood, which started in 2000, explained the appeal.
“Farm markets are the new town square. They feel like neighbors getting together to nurture and feed one another," he said. "All of our local markets achieve that ideal."
“We're big enough to support more than one vendor in a niche. So, two (maybe next year three) organic farms can all thrive,” said Hodges of the weekly gathering along the PATCO line.
Among the vendors at the Westmont Farmer's Market are Debra and Sandra Fandessa, wise-cracking singing twins who sell their Italian Christmas cookies.
Rose Robson revived her family farm in Wrightstown – an 802-resident borough in rural Burlington County – by bringing her fruit and produce to more populous farm markets in the South Jersey suburbs, “extending the reach” she’d have had otherwise.
Only after establishing herself at the markets did she add a traditional farm stand on her acreage near McGuire Air Force Base.
She’s a Wednesday evening regular at the Westmont Farmers Market, which leans heavily toward food vending and mobile set-ups by local prepared food vendors, with just a smattering of growers.
Among the food vendors are Debra and Sandra Fandessa, wise-cracking singing twins who began decades ago peddling Italian Christmas cookies in season.
“We’re 120 years old, together,” Deb jokes.
The twins have leveraged their presence at markets in Westmont and Haddon Heights (on Sundays) into a year-round catering business based on home-cooked Italian dishes, word of mouth and the internet.
“That’s honestly all we can handle,” said Deb Fandessa. “We love talking to people. We love that people come and see us for a home-cooked meal. We love the quaintness" of the two towns.
In Camden County, the biggest downtown market is in Collingwood, between Collins and Irvin avenues, near the PATCO line. The market is open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon.
For more details on Collingswood and for other listings in Camden County, including Westmont and Haddon Heights, see the NJ Fresh listings here.
In Burlington County, the Burlington County Farmers Market is on Centerton Road in Moorestown. It opens this Saturday. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more details and for other listings in Burlington County, see here.
Gloucester County, while filled with farm land, has no downtown farmers markets, according to NJ Fresh. But it does have plenty of traditional roadside farm stands; you can find a list here.