Make the Most of Your Farmers’ Markets
Jun 30, 2014 12:09PM
By Robin Shreeves
As the local foods movement continues to explode, farmers’ markets in our region are thriving, bringing conscious eaters the best that the Garden State has to offer. Locally produced foods and beverages as well as edible and ornamental plants are bountiful but much more is also offered. The markets also feature cooking demos, regional artisans and crafters, musicians and charitable organizations.
A trip to the farmers’ market isn’t like a trip to the grocery store where you’re in and out as quickly as possible. It’s an event at which you can socialize with others in the community and bring the family for a morning or afternoon activity.
Find a Farmers’ Market
Most of the farmers’ markets in New Jersey are seasonal; they’re not open all year round. They’re usually held once a week. By July, all of the markets have opened and are bursting with vendors selling the freshest of foods and expertly made goods.
If you’re not sure where your closest one is, head to the State of New Jersey’s Department of Agriculture’s website (JerseyFresh.nj.gov/find/community.html) to search by county. Take note of the day and time the market is open. The majority of the state’s farmers’ markets are held on weekends while some are open mid-week.
In Camden County for instance, you can visit a different one on four separate days of the week. Collingswood, Haddonfield and Merchantville run markets on Saturday mornings. Haddon Heights runs one on Sunday morning. On Wednesday afternoons, you can stop by the Westmont Farmers’ Market on your way home and on Thursdays stop by the Voorhees Town Center for the Twilight Farmers’ Market.
There are some things that you will need to take with you to make your shopping a little easier.
• Cash. Most vendors at farmers’ markets work on a cash-only basis. It’s also a good idea to take small bills so the vendors don’t have difficulty making change.
• Reusable bags. The vendors have plastic bags for goods to be carried but bringing your own bags helps the environment and saves the vendors a little money. Think beyond the reusable grocery bags. Take some smaller bags or containers to store produce like green beans or mushrooms that you wouldn’t just throw into the bottom of a larger bag.
• An insulated bag for frozen or cold items. Fresh eggs, grass-fed beef, pasture- raised chicken, nitrate-free bacon, artisanal cheese, fresh seafood, prepared cold salads and more are often available at the market. If you can’t buy it and head straight home, you’ll want an insulated bag (or a cooler in the back of your car), to keep the food safe.
• Your smartphone. If a farmer is selling something unfamiliar, like kohlrabi, a vegetable in the cabbage family, would you know what else to buy to prepare it with? Your smartphone is useful for looking up recipes so you don’t get home and realize you should have bought some apples to make kohlrabi and apple slaw.
Arrive at the Beginning (or at the end)
Some items can sell out quickly at farmers’ markets, so if you’re looking for something specific, get there early. Items that are just coming into season tend to sell out quickly. The first week that corn is available can create a frenzy that you have to see to believe.
However, arriving right before closing time may have its advantages, too. Some vendors may cut their prices so they don’t have to haul as much home. This doesn’t always happen, but getting to the market later in the day may yield some bargains.
If you’re interested in buying only what’s in season, buying only organic or buying only locally, you’ll have to question the vendors about their products. Just because something is available doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in season, organic or local. Many vendors will use a “Jersey Fresh” sign for their ocally grown produce and identify outof- state produce with a sign. Meats and dairy are a little trickier to label easily.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the items being sold, but be polite and respectful of the vendor’s time. They’re busy so be specific about what you want to know.
Some questions to ask:
• Where was this grown?
• How was it grown?
• When was this picked?
• How far did this item travel from where it was grown to this market?
• What conditions did the animals that produced this food live in?
Spotlight on a market: Burlington County Farmer’s Market
On Saturdays from May to October, Burlington County holds a farmers’ market on the grounds of the Burlington County Agricultural Center at 500 Centerton Road in Moorestown. The center is a working farm used to teach and connect the public with agriculture, nature and gardening. The farmers’ market is just one of the activities held on the site. Throughout the year, there are educational opportunities and demonstrations.
The Saturday morning farmers’ market runs 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. each week from mid-May to mid-October with chef demonstrations at 10 am. On the second Saturday of each month, visitors can bring fresh and non-perishable foods to be donated to the local food bank. One feature that this market has that no other in the region offers is Our Shared Ground, an onsite bread proofing kitchen (in a shipping container) with an outdoor bread oven. Each week, organic whole-grain bread is baked from wheat grown and milled in Pennsylvania. The money raised from sales of the bread goes back into the educational programs at the Agricultural Center.
Fresh produce, meats, eggs, cheeses, honey, flowers, cakes, chocolates, candles, jewelry, furniture and more can all be purchased at the Burlington County Farmers’ Market, making it (almost) the only place you’ll need to shop for the week.