Farmer Mark Ferguson has a roadside stand in front of his 10-acre Windy Acres organic operation in Galloway Township.
On Wednesday, however, he loaded his truck with baskets of tomatoes, fresh-picked cucumbers and onions the size of softballs and drove 17 miles to set up a table a couple blocks from the beach at the Ocean City Tabernacle.
Why would he go to all the trouble?
“Volume. We always get good crowds in Ocean City,” he said.
Many growers who help turn the Tabernacle’s grounds into a summer farm market every Wednesday have their own storefronts or roadside stands to run. But they said it still pays to sell their products where the people are.
“The recession has been tough on farmers, but people still have to eat. You just have to keep your prices modest,” Ferguson said.
Shore towns in Atlantic and Cape May counties eagerly sponsor weekly farm markets, which have become a financial draw of their own. Margate has hosted one every Thursday for five summers at the restaurant Steve & Cookie’s By the Bay. Farmers come from across South Jersey, owner Cookie Till said.
“Today is the first day for corn. Tomatoes were slow-going because of the weather. But blueberries started, too,” she said Thursday.
Till said she used to scour South Jersey to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables for her restaurant. She decided it made more sense to invite farmers to Margate.
“That was my ulterior motive when we started. I used to drive around to all the farms. Oh, my gosh. This takes days,” she said.
Now, her restaurant and others on the island take advantage of the smorgasbord to stock up weekly on fresh greens. It makes a big difference in the finished meals, she said.
“It’s remarkable. I’m not saying that lightly. You can eat the corn raw, it’s so sweet,” she said.
Mike Mattera has a farm in Middle Township where he grows string beans and tomatoes. But he sells his produce exclusively to shore visitors and residents at weekly markets in Ocean City, Sea Isle City and Stone Harbor.
“They have a huge draw of people. With the variety of products here, it’s like a giant supermarket,” he said.
Rainy days on the island are busiest at the farm market as beachgoers look for other diversions to while away the afternoon.
Andy Kraynock, of Lawrence Township, farms 62 acres in Cumberland County for his stand. He never misses a chance to sell his organic vegetables in Ocean City, he said.
Kraynock sold tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and more to a nonstop stream of customers with the help of his wife, Maria, their daughter, Nicole, and the farm’s only employee, Susan Glass.
“It’s a lot of work. It takes practically a whole day just to get ready and prepare for it,” he said. “But there’s a terrific clientele here.”
“This is our 12th year coming here. It’s a good turnout today,” said Elaine Monteleone, who runs a 25-acre farm in Vineland with her husband, Dave.
She brought bushels of basil, spring mix, Romaine lettuce and other greens from her Cumberland County farm.
She will also participate in Atlantic City’s twice-weekly market Thursdays and Saturdays at South Carolina and Atlantic avenues, she said.
Patty Schuler, of Buena Vista Township, sells honey from her apiary in Richland. Her bees rely on nectar from wildflowers, apples, watermelon and cantaloupe. She sells bottles of the honey at farm markets in Sea Isle and Ocean City.
“You could sell honey at a farm market somewhere in South Jersey every day of the week,” she said.
Ocean City is an especially good market for her, she said, because it has weekly turnover of visitors.
“Your customers are not going to eat a whole bottle of honey in a week. You’d be in a diabetic coma,” she said.
Tom Bocchino, of Ventnor, works as a jitney driver in Atlantic City. But for years he and his late wife, Joanne, supplemented their income by selling jars of her hot pepper jelly. It’s a condiment that goes well with lunchmeats, grilled meats and cream cheeses, he said.
“My wife has made it for 30 years, but she only started selling it in 2005,” he said. “It won best condiment at the Atlantic City Food Alliance Show.”
Bocchino said the farm market is a perfect place to showcase his unusual product.
“It’s wall-to-wall people. It’s a great thing for local farmers,” he said.
Allen and Lisa Lawrence, of Springfield, Pa., stopped by the market to load up on raspberries, blueberries and vegetables to enjoy while on vacation in Ocean City.
“We’re going to make burgers tonight with toppings we bought here,” Lisa Lawrence said. “I’ll make slaw with the kale and pasta salad with the basil and fresh tomatoes we bought.”
The couple said they look forward to coming to the market each year.
“It’s always jumping like this when we’re here. By the middle of the week, you’re starting to run out and need to get some more fresh vegetables,” she said.
Community farm markets at the shore
Center City Park at South Carolina and Atlantic avenues, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays starting July 11.
9700 Amherst Ave., 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 29.
Sixth Street and Asbury Avenue, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays through Sept. 4.
Sea Isle City
Excursion Park, 40th Street, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Aug. 27.
95th Street and Second Avenue, 8 a.m. to noon Sundays through Sept. 1.
West Cape May
732 Broadway, 3 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Aug. 27.
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