The disease of EBS is a terrible one. Endemic to farmers' markets all over the Garden State, it hits particularly hard at the Collingswood Farmers' Market where it runs roughshod over an otherwise great group of farmers in a lovely suburban town. For those of you who don´t know, EBS or Excessive Bakery Syndrome is a condition where market stalls that are supposed to be occupied by growers offering local produce are instead held by bakeries. It is an ailment that runs rampant and unchecked in New Jersey´s farmers' markets. While not as frightening as stalls held by large banks, real estate agents, or classic rock radio stations (all of which show up on occasion at "Jersey Fresh" markets elsewhere), bakeries aren´t farmers.
This is kind of sad because Collingswood—in Camden County—is far enough south to attract a whole different group of growers than those we typically see closer to New York City. On the other hand, a bunch of farmers from Burlington, Salem, and Gloucester Counties is a pretty good reason to visit a farmers' market, no matter what the other vendors are offering. And if you eat (as I did) a couple of doughnuts, a couple of pretzels, and a whoopie pie or two while you choose your locally grown greens, it´s not the end of the world.
Why are these farmers from the "deep south" so different? Well, they grow the classics; beefsteak tomatoes, sweet corn, salad greens, zucchini (with the flowers!), eggplants and fresh herbs. You can go to these farmers and imagine great versions of your favorite dishes just by looking at their produce.
At Collingswood last Saturday, four vendors stood out:
Flavim & Sons from Vineland was the first stand I spotted with zucchini flowers. I almost never see these in New Jersey markets and my heart skipped a beat. The peppers and lettuces were great looking too.
William Schober Sons struck a perfect balance between fresh and packaged with a wide variety of vegetables and fruits along with jars of jams and preserves. Yes some of them were the ubiquitous Baumann´s from Lancaster County, but still, a worthwhile stop.
DanLynn Farms slogan was "we only sell what we grow." On the day I visited, this certified organic producer was the only vendor with heirloom tomatoes. They also offer kettle corn at their stand. This struck me as a perfect South Jersey combo; an elegant heirloom tomato and a sack of corn.
Formissano Farms from Buena had such a wide variety of produce that it was almost like a quality greengrocer. His herbs and herb plants were healthy and lush and the mushrooms he sells (all from Kennett Square, PA) were about the best I´ve seen. Other items like parsnips and dandelions just don´t seem to show up at markets often enough.
I came away with very different feelings than I normally have at New Jersey tailgate markets. There is a liveliness at Collingswood I rarely feel elsewhere and with a larger variety of ingredients available, it seems more useful to the serious cook. And you could even buy a pie for dessert.
After I left, I drove up route 130 for a while and noted the changing landscape; a Turkish bakery, a Latino megastore, and an African shop, all within a few miles. Is this stretch becoming the next route 27?