via Sentinel

Farm market organizers seek to suit buyers’ wishes

Locally grown, fresh foods are focus of market, set to open June 16 on Pearl St.
The Metuchen farmers’ market, which has grown as organically as the food it offers, will open downtown for the summer this weekend.
“The Metuchen Farmer’s Market is one of those lovely fixtures of town life that seems to have been around since anybody can remember … nobody can firmly pin down when or how it started. The trail seems to go back at least 10 years, and all that time under the auspices of the Metuchen Area Chamber of Commerce,” said Nelson Li, the market’s manager.

The market will open June 16 and continue through Oct. 20. It will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays on the northeast corner of the Pearl Street parking lot.

Li has been at the forefront of the market’s revival. Prior to last year, the market had shrunk to a core group of three vendors: Von- Thun Farms of South Brunswick; FarmerAl’s Market & Greenhouses of Monroe; and Hoboken Farms. But during the off-season, Li said, “there developed a grassroots movement to reinvigorate the market; to make it a more vibrant and abundant place to shop and enjoy downtown Metuchen.”

Councilwoman Sheri-Rose Rubin and borough Development Commission member Gideon Gelber recruited Li. However, Li said that without the market’s volunteers, it would not be the success it is.

“We have 20 people who offer their time, ideas, energy and enthusiasm to make the market so wonderful,” he said.

Volunteers do everything from distributing flyers to managing the market’s Facebook page to providing onsite support. The market also is supported by local businesses like Metuchen Savings Bank, Boyt Drugs, Black Belt Institute and Boro Hardware, as well as the municipal Parking Authority.
Vendors for the farmers’ market are selected with some guiding principles in mind, Li said.

“It’s about food — local and fresh. Just about all of our vendors are from New Jersey and either sell locally grown produce or sell products using local ingredients,” he said, adding that there’s also a strong focus on promoting the borough. Thus, the market also has a rotating presence of local organizations and chamber of commerce members, and also features a borough resident who is a soap vendor.

Li said he has surveyed participants about their preferences and uses that to make decisions about which vendors to include. To that end, there are some additions to this year’s market. Lawrenceville-based Cherry Grove Farms, which makes raw-milk and pasteurized cheeses from grass-fed cows, joins the vendor lineup. Li said the market had been trying for two years to get Cherry Grove to sign on, and thanks to committee member Frank Ferrara, its owners agreed. Also new this year will be Gourmet Nuts & Dried Fruit.

“We’re also fortunate in that our market is gaining word-of-mouth credibility, and vendors are approaching us to join,” Li said.

On various Saturdays this summer, there also will be special events at the Old Franklin School in coordination with the market. These include cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, workshops and more.

That Metuchen has so much going on all summer — Junebug and Cruise Nights, for example — is liberating to Li.

“In a way, it’s fortunate that there is so much going on, so that the Farmers’Market does not need to be a fair or festival, it can simply focus on being a great market for food,” he said. As the borough finalizes its redevelopment plans for the Pearl Street lot, Li is mindful that a decision will impact the current setup; however, he sees the two working in partnership together.

“The long-term plan for the market is to create a community enterprise that will help provide an anchor for downtown Metuchen, luring new visitors to Metuchen and driving business to our Main Street restaurants and boutiques. Our ability to accomplish this goal is tied up with the plans for the development of the Pearl Street parking lot. The vision is of a quality indoor-outdoor permanent home for the market, which could be integrated with the half-acre town square, and adjacent to the retail spaces proposed as part of the development scheme. Nothing like the food-themed destination we envision exists in our part of New Jersey, and we are confident it will draw visitors to Metuchen and shoppers to our downtown.”

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