Market proving a hit with diverse population

AFP Correspondent

ASBURY PARK (Nov. 15, 2014) — A small but growing farmer’s market in this seaside city, often called “the jewel of the Jersey Shore,” is proving a hit among local residents and dozens of others passing through town.
Held on Main Street at Sunset Avenue every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Sunset Avenue Farmers’ Market was the brainchild of Bradley Beach chef and restaurateur Leslie Feingold.
Feingold went to Asbury Park City Manager Tom Gilmour with the idea late last year, after it had been held in a different location on the boardwalk near the border with neighboring Ocean Grove.
That area proved too problematic, Feingold explained on a recent sunny Saturday morning. The original market actually began six years ago, Feingold said, at the behest of fellow restaurateur Marilyn Schlossbach, who owns and oversees a half dozen restaurants in Asbury Park and surrounding towns.
“Asbury Park was just starting to come into its own six years ago and as years passed, after Hurricane Sandy, they pushed us into the Carousel building. We found a lot of people didn’t want to stop for a few minutes and have to pay for parking,” Feingold explained, so she suggested to city manager Tom Gilmour they move it over to Sunset Avenue and Main Street [Route 71] for this season.
“The old location was not conducive to a farmer’s market, and they did nothing to help us, so I went to city manager Tom Gilmour and got permission to set up the market over here on Sunset Avenue,” she said. Feingold carefully researched her local farmers, bringing in a mix of certified organic and other Monmouth County-based farmers. Currently, there are anywhere from 15 to 20 vendors each week, including an olive oil vendor, a bread vendor and a tea vendor.
“We get advertising on the Asbury Park electronic billboard and we get a lot of foot and bicycle traffic here on Main Street,” Feingold said, noting the official opening date was June 14.
“There are no crafters here, this is a farmer’s market,” she said, stressing they’re not all organic, either.
“Being an organic farmer is hard to do these days. You have to get certified, you have to know what to do and unless you have help to do it, if you’re not careful, you’re going to get more weeds than produce,” Feingold said.
“Right from the start on June 14 we had 15 vendors here and there is plenty of space for more vendors, so I hope to make it even bigger next summer,” she said. Meanwhile, city manager Tom Gilmour is thrilled, Feingold said, as the new location has the space for expansion.
What is the secret to a successful farmer’s market?
“You’ve got to have it varied for the customers and you can’t have three vendors selling home-made soaps,” she said, “not every farmer grows the same things and at the same time, you can’t have vendors stepping on each other’s feet. Now with this location, people are able to park easily, jump out of their cars or park their bikes for a few minutes and get what they want quickly. It’s a lot better for all of us,” Feingold said.
One happy vendor is Stephanie Bierman, who sells herbal teas at her booth, Smiling Earth Elixirs at the Sunset Avenue Farmer’s Market.
“I began studying herbalism a couple of years ago and was making teas for myself and friends and then I was working at a juice bar and got let go, so I started this business,” Bierman explained. Bierman sells herbal teas with exotic names like Detoxic Avenger, to encourage better digestion, Doctor Dreamland to induce deeper more restful sleep, and Cooling On The Shore, an iced herbal tea.
Bierman, raised in Boston, majored in photography and film at the University of Chicago and spent time in San Diego before moving back east to New Jersey. Bierman’s Smiling Earth Elixirs booth can be found at other farmer’s markets in Asbury Park, Woodbridge in Middlesex County and Atlantic Highlands on other days of the week.
“At this market, I find I get a lot of minorities to my booth here, checking out and buying herbal tea mixes that I make,” she added.
Feingold said she plans to do more research into Monmouth County area farmers this fall and winter and look to expand it even more when it re-commences in June of 2015.
“A lot of different ethnic groups come here and in past years we’ve noticed a greater diversity of people coming into this market, and they’re looking for and open to a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, so it works for everybody.”
“This year, we will go every Saturday morning from 8 to 1 p.m. until the end of October, weather permitting,” Feingold added.