Me, Sher, and Ad

Me, Sher, and Ad
Bro Adam and sis Sher, my rocks!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Farmstands and Farmers Markets

Farmers markets and roadside stands are a great place to take in the local scenery, color, and flavor. Where else can you get the freshest of farm produce, dairy products, and eggs for a fraction of the price at a supermarket. Not only that, you are supporting the local economy down to the basic level of production, the farmer himself. I grew up in South Jersey (which to the folks who aren’t in the know, is “southern” New Jersey). My family would take the back roads down to various bay and beach side towns such as Fortescue, Ocean City, Strathmere and Cape May. Along the way, passing the cranberry bogs, the Pine Barrens, and eventually smelly salt marshes, would be my first introductions to the roadside farm stand.

At these roadside stands we would find specifically what that particular farmer was growing. Mom would buy apples, blueberries, peaches, heavy softball size Jersey tomatoes, white “Silver Queen” corn, asparagus, and other farm products which grew well in the sandy soils the closer one got to the Jersey shore. You would also find some local honeys and locally grown flowers for sale. I would ask Mom and Dad at each stand, “Why doesn’t this farmer have lettuce or apples?” They would instruct me that this wasn’t like the supermarkets at home and that not every farmer had every type of fruit or vegetable.

There is a wonderful farmers market in Sewell, South Jersey by the name of Duffield's Farm Market. They have been open since 1953. Adam, Sheryl, and I would go there with Mom and Dad throughout the seasons. One of the best memories was pumpkin time! We would pick out our pumpkins to carve for Halloween. Mom would buy some mums, mini jack-o-lanterns, and Indian corn for the front door. A special treat was their apple cider, candy apples, and then visiting the petting zoo. I specifically remember being bit by a goat. I screamed. Otherwise, all of the other memories were great!

My family also would take Sunday trips out to Lancaster, PA and visit the Bird in Hand Farmers Market in the town of Bird in Hand, Lancaster County, PA, where over 20 vendors sold (and still do) their wares. There are other farmers markets in Lancaster County but this is the one I always remembered traveling to with my family. Here, you can buy all sorts of homemade and farm products such as chow chow, pepper jam, shoo fly pies, AP cake, rhubarb pie (in season of course), all sorts of other PA Dutch bakes cakes and goods, old fashioned candies, herbs, spices, smoked meats and cheeses, locally grown fruits and vegetables, and Amish and Mennonite crafts such as quilts, wrought iron and wooden furniture, and souveniers. Adam and I would always love the sugar rock candy sold here.

I remember Dad would sometimes got lost driving around the surrounding countryside. I am not sure if he meant to get lost, but we would spend hours criss-crossing Amish country passing by quaint school houses, large farms, men plowing fields with teams of 10 or more mules or horses, and horse drawn buggies with traditional Amish families squeezed inside. Fun special memories from quieter times.

After I grew up, I moved out to Berks County, another country-county of rolling farms and hillsides that Pennsylvania is so well known for.  There is also a smaller Amish and Mennonite community in Berks County and luckily, I still found the farm stands I grew up loving. One of the largest farmers markets in the area is Rennigers Market in Kutztown, PA.  This farmers market has it all! There are over 200 vendors available which have almost everything that the Bird in Hand Farmers Market has plus so much more. You can find several vegetable stands indoors, as well as fresh poultry stands, bakeries, seafood peddlers, and butchers. If antiques and collectibles are your thing, on Saturdays, flea market and antique venders set up outside sellling all types of cool and unique antiques, bric-a-brac, and collectibles. Inside of the indoor market are vendor after vendor of dealers in two very long hallways. Some of my best treasures have been bought at this place! It is a great place to shop, have lunch, and get your self lost in for the afternoon.

Lastly, I want to tell you about a small Mennonite farm stand outside of Myerstown, PA in Lebanon County. It has become a favorite of mine to travel to on the weekends. It is right off of Swatara Creek (also known as the Swattie Creek). It sells raw milk, raw cheese, their own honey, pies, breads, eggs, jams, jellies, fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Last time I bought my produce there, I was helped by a very knowledgeable 12 year old girl and her 5 year old sister, both dressed in the prettiest purple homemade dresses.

The best part though, is that this Mennonite family operates the stand by way of an "honor box."  For those of you that don't know what this is, it is very simple. There is a scale to measure your items and figure out how much you owe. You put the money you owe into a box with a slit. You don't ask for change. If it comes to $4.75 and you don't have exact change, be a generous trooper and put in a $5.00 bill. Chances are that the Mennonite family selling these items are more in need of the quarter than you! And I guarantee you that it will be the best eggs, vegetables, honey, or shoo fly pie that you have ever had! That is ... if you find that little farm stand next to the Swattie Creek.

1 comment:

  1. I used to drive Route 30 across south Jersey to visit an aunt in Mystic Islands. A lot of the stands along that route were "fake" with produce from elsewhere and inflated prices. But on a back road I got the best peaches I ever ate.
    Thanks for helping me make the trip "back."