Published: Wednesday, June 16, 2010, 7:07 PM Updated: Wednesday, June 16, 2010, 7:10 PM
This summer will be bountiful for both farmers and lovers of fresh food as new farmers markets sprout up throughout the state.
There are nine markets in New Jersey opening this year for the first time, and many others are expanding their hours. The growth is a continuation of a steady expansion in the last 10 years that has seen the number of farmers markets increase to 137.
"There is just an explosion of demand in terms of people desiring to buy local," said Douglas H. Fisher, the New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture and a former grocer.
Last Thursday, the Flemington market was open for the first time during the week. In Chatham Borough, officials have decided to lengthen their selling season by a month. And this past Sunday, the township of Nutley held its first market ever.
Most farmers markets are held in a town plaza or park in which a local farmer sells their produce. The vendors usually are the owners or managers of their own small farms.
In addition to herbs, heirloom tomatoes or organic vegetables, increasingly there is food for sale that is produced and processed on local farms, like tomato sauces, cheeses and meats, Fisher said.
The market in Nutley kicked off this past Sunday with a guitar-duo, many customers and eight vendors, Mayor Joanne Cocchiola said.
The market was primarily a response to requests from residents tired of traveling to neighboring towns to get their produce, she said.
Farmers came from as far as Monmouth County and as close as North Caldwell. The town wants to expand the offerings.
"We are trying to get our hands on a local Nutley beekeeper," she said.
Fifty miles to the south, Flemington already has seen up to 1,000 people attend its market on sunny Sundays, the only day the market was held during its four years of operation.
After surveying both farmers and customers, the organizers decided to add a market on Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m.
"We wanted to find new customers," said Catherine Suttle, of the Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance.
They hope some of those customers are commuters, including nearly 2,000 employees at the Hunterdon Medical Center.
"We are hoping we will catch them on their way home or on a break," she said.
Dale Davis 3d, an owner of Stony Hill Farm Market in Chester Township, sells produce in three different markets per day. His customers are commuters coming from work as well as people who otherwise wouldn’t travel far to get fresh produce from a farm.
"Some like to come to the farm to pick their own," Davis said, "but realistically, for everyday shopping, people aren’t going to drive an hour."
Across the state there seem to be plenty of customers, said Secretary Fisher.
Farmers are reporting significant increases in volumes of sales from these markets, he said, and towns are responding.