There was an innocent-enough-looking link here on Serious Eats here the other day. It led to a graphic on the top twenty farmers' markets in America. When I saw that it showed that three of the top in the "small" category were in New Jersey, I needed to investigate.
A quick phone call to the site owner revealed that the survey was influenced by the enthusiasm of local market shoppers. Of course! If this were the key, then New Jersey should win everything. This state has more energy going for it than any other. What we lack are high-end farmers selling at local markets.
These were the three:
- Collingswood Farmers' Market in the suburbs of Philly. I went last year and while I really enjoyed its festive atmosphere, it was a bit short on actual farmers.
- Gloucester City Farmers' Market in Gloucester. I’ve never been to this market, but it’s in one of the most agricultural areas of the state and a very remote destination for most readers I’m in touch with. I’ll try to make it the subject of a future report.
- Burlington County Farmers' Market in Moorestown. I hadn’t been to this one either, but it looked like I could head down and check it out.
Over the past year I’ve come to accept the shortcomings of New Jersey farmers' markets more. I understand now that expecting our markets to conform to the same standards as those in New York and London is deeply unrealistic on my part.
Burlington County Farmers' Market
My trip to Moorestown didn’t put me in a better frame of mind. I drove south in crushing Saturday morning traffic and was cut off by a large yellow truck when I tried to take a coffee break a the Mastoris Diner. By the time I passed the sign that said “Welcome to Moorestown,” I was hoping I’d find a coffee vendor there.
When I got there, I found something unique; rather than selling in a parking lot, this market is at a county agricultural facility, a sort of cross between a park, a classroom, and a farm. Most of the vendors were in an open shed and next to a few old-style silos.
By New Jersey standards, this place is paradise. I counted twelve actual farmers, including at least one that I had been trying to interview for years; that’s more than half the vendors. Bakers were kept to a minimum and the live music seemed to fit in. There was even a chef’s demo tent. There was food worth eating. Here’s who was selling it:
Darmo’s Farm Stand is a prototype for a local conventional produce farm. Their eggplants and melons were beautiful, and the “Variety Pack;” a $4.00 basket of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplants, is a brilliant innovation. It’s New Jersey summer food in an easy-to-carry container.
Davidson Exotic Mushrooms from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, had reasonably priced baskets of shiitake, crimini, and portabello mushrooms. (I know that those aren’t really “exotic.”) They’re especially worth it if you can’t make it to the lovely town of Kennett Square and its many great, cheap mushroom growers.
Busy Bee Farm from Tabernacle in the Pine Barrens grows lavender and produces two flavors of infused honeys; apple mint and lavender. Their pure honey, called “woodland,” is offered too.
1895 Organic Farm is the sort of operation that would be at the top of anybody’s list, and the kind of farmers' market vendor I dream of. They offered a wide variety of produce and assured me that someday in the distant future, I’d be able to do a whole piece on their operation. Watch for it here.
Hunter’s Farm Market & Greenhouse had what you’d expect in quality, with the added bonus of lima beans. Once one of the state’s biggest crops, fresh limas are almost unknown in markets today.
For those of you who need a bit of geographic help, the market is right next to that building alongside the New Jersey Turnpike that looks like the deck tower of an aircraft carrier. Yes, there. And in answer to that other question; I bought a croissant from a baker and ate it on the spot.
Burlington County Farmers' Market
500 Centerton Road, Moorestown NJ (map) Saturdays, 8:30am-1pm, until the first week in November