Tailgating, healthy-style

Posted: May 03, 2009

The farmers from New Jersey and Pennsylvania began arriving in Collingswood at 6 a.m. yesterday - two full hours before the opening of their "downtown tailgate" market.

There was lots of work to do. They unloaded trucks, quickly set up tables, laid out fresh produce, then waited.

Would the crowds be there as they had been over the last decade? Or would the rain keep them home?

They soon got their answer as dozens of customers showed up before 8 a.m., followed by hundreds of others during the market's first day of the season.

And that was good news for farmers and town merchants in tough economic times.

"The farmers have another outlet to sell their produce without a middleman, our businesses are exposed to more people, and the customers get fresh, affordable food," said Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley, whose town is host to one of the largest downtown tailgate markets in the Garden State.

These markets - along with the more permanent farmers' markets along many roads - have become increasingly popular across Pennsylvania and New Jersey the last several years. The number in New Jersey grew from 110 last year to 139 this year. Hundreds of downtown tailgate markets also have sprung up in Pennsylvania, though state agriculture officials say the exact number has not been determined. Vendors pay various fees to their home communities.

The markets, typically held on weekends, can be found this year at Headhouse Square at Second and Lombard Streets in Philadelphia; in Havertown, Wilkes-Barre, and Haddonfield; and at scores of other locations across the region. Collingswood holds its market every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon, May through Thanksgiving.

"It has become a social," Maley said. "You don't go clubbing Saturday night; you go to the farmers' market Saturday morning. It's the premier event for us."

Many market shoppers end up patronizing businesses and restaurants on nearby Haddon Avenue, the main drag through Collingswood. That is a plus for municipalities struggling for customer traffic during the recession.

"It brings people in from other towns, and the people here love it, too," said Mike DiBartolo, owner of DiBartolo's Bakery in Collingswood. "They can't wait for the opening."

The market is "a good ad for the town," said Kevin Flaim, 48, who operates Flaim Farms in Vineland, N.J., and brought in lettuce, eggplants, scallions, bushed kale, beets, carrots, and other produce in a large refrigerated truck.

"We sell to people from all over the area - and to the restaurants here," added Flaim, who hires about eight local youths to handle the sales. "We cut out the middleman, go right to the consumer, and do it fresher and cheaper than the grocery stores."

Twenty-five vendors plus community groups and a band set up tables and tents yesterday along a Collingswood parking lot beneath a raised section of the PATCO High-Speed Line.

"All of our regulars have come back, and they're tickled pink that we're here," Flaim said. "It's great to see everybody."

"Welcome back!" said Janet Neufeld, 68, of Collingswood, as she spotted one of the vendors.

"This is a small town, and I meet neighbors and friends whenever I come here to pick up produce and plants," she added. "It's wonderful."

Scores of people, many with baby carriages and pets, strolled through the market, some getting an early lunch at an outdoor cafe run by the Painted Cottage Cafe, a restaurant on Haddon Avenue.

Others tried freshly made quesadillas, and chips and salsa offered by Mark Smith, owner of Tortilla Press, a restaurant on Haddon Avenue.

"We started coming to the market about four years ago. It's been good for us, and we'll keep doing it," said farmer Mandy Arrowsmith, 38, of Hillacres Pride and Hillacres Jerseys at Peach Bottom, Lancaster County.

"This helps pay us for the farming, and the consumers know where their food is coming from," added Arrowsmith, who sells beef, cheese, and other dairy products. "These days, that's something people are interested in."

The rain came down steadily at times yesterday, but "the crowds are faithful regardless of the weather," said Jim Daily, who runs markets in Collingswood; Philadelphia; and Ocean City, Salem, and Woodstown, N.J., for A.T. Buzby, a farm in Woodstown. "This is our start-up."

"People showed up in the rain!" said Betsy Cook, director of the Collingswood Market. "I'm very happy! I'm stomping my feet!"

Nearby, Frank and Mary DiGiamarino, both 68, of Oaklyn, got out of the rain and ate fresh-baked pretzels under the PATCO overpass.

"We've come just about every week since this started," Mary DiGiamarino said. "Everything is very fresh, and the prices are good."

"The market always draws a good crowd," Frank DiGiamarino added. "Even in the rain."

Roadside Markets

Here are roadside and tailgate market sites in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties.

Burlington County

Burlington County Farmers' Market, 500 Centerton Rd., Moorestown.

Columbus Farmers' Market, Route 206.

Camden County

Berlin Farmers' Market, Route 541 at Clementon Road.

Camden Community Farmers' Market, Broadway and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Collingswood Farmers' Market, Collins and Irvin Avenues.

Farmers' Market at the Walter Rand Transportation Center, Broadway, Camden.

Haddonfield Farmers' Market, Kings Highway and Chestnut Street.

Our Lady of Lourdes Farmers' Market, 1600 Haddon Ave., Camden.

Virtua Health Farmers' Market, Mount Ephraim and Atlantic Avenues, Camden.

Gloucester County

Woodbury Farmers' Market, near Cooper and East Barber Streets.

SOURCE: N.J. Department of Agriculture

Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.

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