Efficiency discussed at farm market summit

AFP Correspondent

HARDYSTON TOWNSHIP (Dec. 1, 2015) — In a world where people don’t always know their neighbors and communicate through text messages and Facebook, they need a space to get together and talk face to face.
In a growing number of municipalities around the state, the local farmers’ market provides just that.
“We have dogs and baby carriages,” said Nancy Boone of the Ramsay market, “It’s a place people want to bring the entire family.”
“We’re building local connections,” said Ben Del Coro, co-founder of the Sparta Farmers’ Market at the Farm Market Summit, on Nov. 10 at the Crystal Springs Country Club.
Many of the attendees were farm market managers from around the state or farmers who sell at these markets.
Vendor Jim Rimi of Washington who sells pottery at the Sparta market credited the market managers with the success of markets throughout the state.
Managers and farmers talked about the common problems each farmers’ market faces.
They addressed the question of competition in markets.
Farmer Doug Race said if lines are too long at a particular vendor, the market manager should talk to the farmer “before sliding another farmer in.
“Maybe the farmer needs to bring in another employee to serve the public,” he added.
Race added market managers should give young farmers a chance to sell whenever possible.
He summed up by calling on the board of advisors to the market to speak to the farmers. “It’s about the farmers,” he said.
Several farmers expressed displeasure with people who show up to the market before it officially opens. It takes quite a while to set up.
Race said it needs to be the market manager to enforce the starting times so the farmers can get their set-ups done.
Pamela Caputo of Chatham’s market said she enlists the assistance of teenagers to help farmers set up and do other errands needed during the Saturday market which is on municipal property at the Chatham train station.
“It’s not like they lack options,” Del Coro said of the customers at the Sparta market which is near a large supermarket. The market keeps money in the local economy and “neighbors actually communicate,” he said.
The Blairstown market is under the auspices of the Foodshed Alliance. Del Coro said since the Alliance is a 501c3, the market had to be established separately because a market is a for-profit entity.
Boone of the Ramsay Farmers’ Market said she “steal(s) a lot of good ideas whenever I can.” She “stole” a lot of her ideas from the nearby Warwick, N.Y., Farmers’ Market.
Like a number of markets in the state, Ramsay’s is in the train station. A former member of the Historical Association in Ramsay, Boone knows the significance of that. “Ramsay was a strawberry capital and farmers would take their strawberries to the station to sell,” she said.
Ramsay receives help from the town. DPW employees set up barricades and no parking signs and the local police provide crossing guards.
Noting the area is densely populated, Boone saw a need for another market in spite of markets in nearby Suffern, N.Y., and Ridgewood.
“We started with 14 vendors. Now we have 40, sometimes 45,” she said.
Boone operates the market in the winter at a nearby school.
Besides a gift for “stealing” ideas, Boone also said she is blessed with an outstanding volunteer committee.
Boone advocates using social media to publicize the market, but also continuing to use the old-fashioned media. “We still need to put it in the paper.” she said. “We don’t want people to forget us.”
The market also has a newsletter which features certain vendors in each issue so the customers get to know all of the vendors. Because Ramsay’s market is on a Sunday in partially “blue lawed” Bergen County, the newsletter also lists local businesses that are open on Sundays. Certain businesses also sponsor the market in the newsletter.
Mitch Morrison, who organized the summit, said banks, hospitals and real estate offices will often help promote the local market. Jennifer Dericks, of Sparta, suggested reaching out to yoga studios, massage therapists and acupuncturists as like-minded businesses who will help.
Anne Masters, a frequent customer of farm markets, who claims she doesn’t earn enough points each year for a Shop-Rite turkey, suggested providing basic information could be imparted to people through their faith communities.
Because the farmers always bring more than they can sell, Boone said Ramsay has several farmers who will donate produce to food banks. A volunteer takes the food on Mondays, she said. A bakery vendor also donates baked goods to a food kitchen in Suffern.
A local chef does demonstrations in Ramsay, similar to the way it’s handled in Blairstown. The chef picks out food from vendors in the market in the morning and cooks right there. Ramsay also features children’s crafts.
Many of the markets participate in the WIC and SNAP programs. While some managers said there’s a lot of paperwork involved, they said it is worth it, especially in urban markets.
Dave Zelov of Kittatinny Ridge Farm sells through a CSA and farmers’ markets.
He said markets need a mix of organic farms, like his, and conventional.
Small organic growers may have corn and other field crops,” he said.
Race is a conventional farmer who grows corn but uses no genetically modified seeds. He agrees every farmers’ market should have “one good organic grower.”
Zelov said 75 percent of his income comes through the CSA and farmers’ markets. Race said 50 percent of his sales are from farmers’ markets which include the Green Market at Union Square in New York City.
Representatives of the Sussex County Health Department attended the summit. Herbert J. Yardley, county health officer, said the state League of Municipalities Convention in Atlantic City is a good opportunity to give a program for municipalities on how to set up a farm market in their community.
Yardley also said there could be grant money available for a market if the grant is written as a healthy eating process.
“There’s money in obesity,” he said. Grants are awarded if they are for program that promote healthy eating and healthy living.
Alan Hunt of Wholesome Way, a national not-for-profit group, said he is working on a food and nutrition grant and would like to provide incentives for farm markets.
Del Coro said that with cold storage, a market can offer milk, yogurt, cheese, bread and chicken.
“Raw grains that are organic come from North Dakota,” he said
Morrison provided packets of information for the farmers and managers to take with them and promised more forums in the future.