NJ Pen 2023 Farmers Market Preview


Your look ahead at the season to come from farmers markets in Collingswood, Haddonfield, Haddon Heights, and Merchantville.

By Matt Skoufalos | April 10, 2023

Farmers markets are among the most eagerly anticipated seasonal amenities in many South Jersey communities. They link local growers with valued patrons, connect chefs from brick-and-mortar restaurants with ingredients whose production chain they can trace, and provide a backdrop for communities to gather and socialize.

Farmers markets in Camden County are also valuable small business incubators, often providing a pathway from cottage-industry startup to downtown storefront for local entrepreneurs. They connect shoppers with the people who make the things they bring into their homes; whose works are imbued with the stories they may share over a folding table or under a pop-up tent.

Farmers markets also can offer access to fresh, healthy food for people who may not be able to make it to a supermarket, but who can usually make it to their community center — or at least to a stop along the PATCO Speedline. They can help families cut back on food waste, expand their palates, and draw closer to the chains of production that farmers in the Garden State trace to the days of horse-drawn carriages.

Here’s a look at the seasons ahead for the markets in Collingswood, Haddonfield, Haddon Heights, and Merchantville.

Haddon Heights Farmers Market (2017). Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Haddon Heights Farmers Market

Hours: Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Location: Station and East Atlantic Avenues
Opening Day: April 23, 2023
Year: 13
Market Coordinator Ryan Walsh, Assistant Coordinator Andrew Sharkey

Since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Haddon Heights Farmers Market co-founder Joe Gentile said he’s witnessed a shift in how local farmers markets are patronized.

Part of that lies in the social aspect of a weekly gathering at which customers look forward to meeting neighbors and listening to live music.

“So quickly, they’ve become more of a necessity to people as they’re waiting for spring; waiting to get outside again,” Gentile said. “It’s just become such a part of the landscape; it’s part of the weekly routine.”

But there’s also the underlying structure of the market as a commercial concern with turnover. Farmers markets have always functioned as a sort of incubator for cottage industry start-ups. Some small businesses migrate onward to brick-and-mortar locations; others fold up their tents and close up shop after a season or two.

As customers take greater advantage of a variety of food options, from grocery delivery services to buy-in-bulk big box stores, trips to seasonal farmers markets hinge more on connecting with vendors. In Haddon Heights, that means shoppers can seek out new specialty products at the local scale while supporting growers like Spring House Farms of Morristown, Peplowski Fruit Farm of Swedesboro, and Vierek Farms of Woolwich.

“Some of the things that [customers] would normally buy at the supermarket, they’re buying at the farmers market because of the expansion of cottage industry [businesses],” Gentile said. “There’s approachable ideas that you can start at the market.”

Those start-ups don’t necessarily have to be food-based, either. Haddon Heights has added an increasing number of artisan and service-oriented businesses to its ranks in the past few years. Vendors like Humble Bee Woodworks offer a bit of both, from handmade goods to knife sharpening services. Newcomer Scrub a Lil’ Deepa offers facial scrubs; Jotxi vends one-of-a-kind jewelry.

The Haddon Heights Farmers Market also features a rotating host of craft brewers and distillers from across South Jersey, leveraging a recent relaxation of state regulations that allow for locally made packaged goods and spirits to be vended in such environments.

There’s also a steady effort to deliver community events through the market, starting with its weekly Cars and Coffee event, which kicks off at 9 a.m. in the parking lot at 120 White Horse Pike.

On the calendar for 2023 in Haddon Heights are animal adoption events through local shelters and rescues and presentations by the Camden County Certified Gardeners. HIP4Kids children’s programming will offer a special focus on children’s health and wellness in 2023, as well as opportunities to inspire creativity through arts experiences offered by The Artist Academy and John F the Artist.

Round that out with seasonal treats from Kona Shaved Ice and Mr. Softee, and it’s easy to find time in your Sunday morning to visit downtown Haddon Heights.

2023 Merchantville Market Off-Centre Coordinators. From left: Katherine Carpenter, Janeen Hovnanian, Jaimee Solar, Caitlin Gardner, and Carolyn Busa. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Merchantville Market Off-Centre

Hours: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Location: Walking path at South Centre Street and West Chestnut Avenue
Opening Day: May 5; market held on the first Friday of every month through October 6
Year: 10
Market Coordinators Carolyn Busa, Katherine Carpenter, Caitlin Gardner, Janeen Hovnanian, Jaimee Solar

The Merchantville Market Off-Centre has undergone a variety of changes in the past year, namely staving off cancellation amid a change in leadership. The 2023 market will take shape as a First Friday event built around community gathering, local artisans, and Merchantville businesses.

At the helm are a group of local women — Carolyn Busa, Katherine Carpenter, Caitlin Gardner, Janeen Hovnanian, and Jaimee Solar — who “want to make something happen,” said Gardner, a new transplant from California.

“We’re all relatively new to town,” she said. “This is what we came for.”

Carpenter, who moved to Merchantville from Philadelphia, was among the group who hustled to put on last year’s market on short notice. This year, she said, organizers committed much earlier to the process, and expect to deliver a reliable monthly experience.

“Would l love to have a weekly farmers market?” Carpenter said. “Sure, but I don’t think that’s where we are at the present moment. It’s such a much bigger undertaking than people realize.”

For 2023, the Market Off-Centre will build around a monthly calendar of themed events, like the Merchantville Birthday Bash in June, or the town-wide Monsterville celebration in October, with food trucks, live entertainment, and artisan vendors.

With a later start time than the other area markets, Merchantville’s will also cater to shoppers seeking prepared foods, and perhaps function as an entry point into the local bar and restaurant scene. Pedestrians can arrive via the Chestnut Avenue walking path, and press on into the downtown area thereafter.

“This whole mile is just trees and houses surrounding it, and the twinkle lights at night,” Carpenter said. “It makes it a lot more homey and community-oriented. We have such a beautiful piece of land here, I’m glad we’re able to use it for events.

Solar, who works in real estate, believes that connecting Merchantville residents with the shops and events in the borough business district also offers an opportunity to spread community at the Market Off-Centre.

“There’s some spaces, and people doing cool things with the spaces, and it’s because we’re coming together and telling people what we want,” she said. “Merchantville has all the stuff in place to do the same things that happen in other towns. Maybe it’s on a smaller scale, but that’s okay with us.

“When you get involved with this stuff, we’re supporting the businesses,” Solar said. “That’s really important to think about. We’re not looking to compete with these other towns; we’re looking to provide our residents with the same experiences.”

For Busa, a retailer who heads up the borough business association, the Market Off-Centre is an opportunity to activate spaces downtown, and streamline communication about events in the community. To her, a smaller-scale market doesn’t mean smaller stakes; rather, it’s fuel for an underdog mentality that will help nurture the future growth of the project.

“We can’t have an ego, and I think that’s what makes us special,” Busa said. “We’re scrappy and doing the best with such a small area. We’re trying to do so much, and some of it’s working.”

Hovnanian believes that growing the market also will help Merchantville with “building a community post-COVID.

“It was a very strange time to move here, and we’re trying to break through that barrier and into this kind of coming-together as a community, and hopefully getting to share that with people from other towns,” she said.

“We have the structure in place to do big things; we have all the pieces you need to be successful,” Hovnanian said.

Collingswood Farmers Market Director Kim Goodman. Credit: Kim Goodman.

Collingswood Farmers Market

Hours: Saturday, 8 a.m. to 12 noon
Location: Atlantic Avenue, between Irwin and Collings Avenues
Opening Day: May 6
Year: 24
Market Director Kim Goodman

The longest-running and best-supported farmers market in Camden County approaches the quarter-century mark in 2023, and with new leadership.

Taking over for longtime coordinator David Hodges, Market Director Kim Goodman has stepped into the role working to streamline as much of the behind-the-scenes functionality of the market as she can.

For the first time in its history, the Collingswood Farmers Market is now powered by a dedicated management software platform, which Goodman said makes less work for vendors as well as volunteers.

Marketgoers will be able to search for specific products — corn, tomatoes, blueberries, for example — and find a list of vendors offering them that week.

“We have such a well-rounded roster of vendors that you can pretty much get everything that’s on your grocery list,” she said. “There’s produce, cheese, meats, bread — everything that you could possibly want.”

Vendors will also benefit from simplified application and contract process by which they register for the market, Goodman said; importantly, the new software suite will also digitize invoicing and electronic payments, which she expects to be “a huge timesaver.

“I’m learning so much,” Goodman said. “A lot of it makes my job easier and our vendors’ jobs easier. It’s very cool that that stuff exists, and was developed by people who’ve run farmers markets.”

This year, the Collingswood Farmers Market will also help make fresh food more accessible to low-income families by accepting SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. In addition, the market is also supporting Good Food Bucks, a program from Clifton-based nonprofit, City Green, which doubles SNAP benefits at participating locations.

“City Green matches SNAP benefits dollar for dollar,” Goodman said. “It’s a huge benefit to them, and it’s a huge benefit to the farmers because it’s more customers. We worked with Sustainable Collingswood and they’ve been really, really helpful in getting that off the ground with us.”

The market will also have a communication board for the 2023 season: a large, visual display that allows nonverbal patrons to express themselves in pictures instead of words. Collingswood Director of Community and Business Development Lindsey Ferguson and speech and language pathologist Molly Cervini Benovic, who have installed other communication boards across the borough, are overseeing the project.

One thing that’s not changing since its implementation is the market’s policy on dogs, which are welcome as long as they are people- and dog-friendly, well-behaved, and controlled by a Collingswood Farmers Market leash (a one-time $10 purchase, with fees donated to local shelters).

The 2023 season will also feature prepared foods from a handful of businesses along Haddon Avenue’s Restaurant Row, including the Tortilla Press, Haddon Culinary, and Maria’s Bread Sandwiches. Other vendors, like Nature’s Own Farm, will offer barbecue as well as retailing meats and eggs; East Coast Empanadas also will serve up its namesake products.

With a following 23 seasons deep and dozens of weekly vendors, Goodman knows that she’s inheriting stewardship of a community asset, and views her role as continuing its growth.

“It’s the biggest farmers market in the area, and it’s a whole experience,” she said. “I feel like there’s so much of the solid foundation that already exists that I don’t already have to reinvent the wheel that much with the market. We can just add different, beneficial programs to it to grow it that way.”

The Haddonfield Farmers Market makes regular use of King’s Court. Credit: Haddonfield Farmers Market (2018).

Haddonfield Farmers Market

Hours: Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Location: 2 Kings Court
Opening Day: May 20
Year: 18
Market Coordinator Ralph Cialella

In its 18th season, the Haddonfield Farmers Market continues to find its niche in the busy downtown shopping district, and Market Coordinator Ralph Cialella is excited to see it flourish as it does.

“I think the biggest success story that came from our market is the restaurants and businesses,” that made the jump to brick-and-mortar storefronts, he said.

Before their doors were open on Kings Highway, businesses like MECHA Chocolate, Pizza Crime, Crumb, Heritage Winery, and King’s Road Brewing made their Haddonfield debuts in the borough farmers market.

Their success has raised the standard for small startups hopeful to make the same leap, Cialella said.

“It used to be you could throw anything on a table and sell it,” he said. “If your table’s not right, your packaging’s not right, your logo’s not right, the young consumer won’t buy it. They’re more selective, too.”

And as much as helping to fill in retail spaces in downtown Haddonfield is “an amazing accomplishment,” Cialella said it illustrates the reciprocal nature of the farmers market to the business district.

“The borough has allowed the downtown businesses to create nice spaces,” he said; “a winery, a brewery, a distillery, a restaurant scene.

“I think the King’s Court location created that downtown hub that we never had years ago,” Cialella said. “You can walk from top to bottom and hang from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. at night. I think it’s created that sense of community.”

The Haddonfield Farmers Market boasts an average of 18 to 30 vendors per week across a variety of interests. Turning Point Organic Farms of Mullica Hill, Sorbello Sisters of Swedesboro, and Winsley Gardens head up the roster of farmers, with supplemental fruit and vegetables from Sara’s Produce of Collingswood and Mari’s Market of Haddonfield.

King’s Court will also offer more freshly prepared food options than ever before during market season, with vendors Westlakes Café and Seashore Smoothie supported by brick-and-mortar restaurant Gass and Main and frozen yogurt shop Yapple; right around the corner is breakfast and lunch at Café Lift.

“We always thought that the court should be a food court,” Cialella said.

The other competitive advantage for Haddonfield Farmers Market customers is its 1 p.m. closing bell. For shoppers from the area, it’s the chance to spend an extra hour in the neighborhood on a Saturday, Cialella said — and what could be better that?

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