Pie Girl and other attractions to Shore farmers' markets

"Pie Girl" Cat Gleason sells her wares to Debbie Bond of Ocean City, a regular customer. Gleason donates her profits to a soup kitchen.
"Pie Girl" Cat Gleason sells her wares to Debbie Bond of Ocean City, a regular customer. Gleason donates her profits to a soup kitchen. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 16, 2013

OCEAN CITY, N.J. - Cat Gleason, whose desserts have earned her the moniker "Pie Girl," takes the community in farmers' markets seriously: She purchases fellow vendors' fresh produce, turns it into a scrumptious product that draws customers, and then uses her proceeds to feed the homeless at a local church.

"Sometimes, it seems like a lot to be doing, but then I think about all the people who aren't lucky enough to have what I have . . . wonderful parents and a roof over my head," said Gleason, 16, a rising junior at Ocean City High School. "I'm very thankful, and that's what keeps me going."

Gleason's Pie Girl brand is sustained by the notion of feeding the hungry and homeless "one pie at a time."

So before 7 a.m. on Wednesdays, when most teens on summer break are still sleeping in, Gleason is pitching her blue tent awning and setting up tables on the grounds of the Ocean City Tabernacle, where several dozen farmers and food crafters gather for the five-hour weekly fest.

It is one of about a dozen such farmers' markets organized in Jersey Shore towns during the summer. Statewide, there are about 140 of the weekly markets, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

In Ocean City, tourists and locals mingle among the fruits and vegetables, discussing the virtues of the heirloom Jersey tomato vs. one from anywhere else on the planet, as they sip coffee roasted and brewed by a local purveyor.

They can buy artisanal cheeses from a Cape May County fromagerie, and sunny sunflowers and hardy gladiolas from a fourth-generation Vineland farmer. Besides fresh produce, some markets also feature seafood, pastries, honey, jams and jellies, herbs, and handmade crafts.

In Gleason's Ocean City stall, a dizzying spectacle of 100 to 150 pies and cobblers are pulled from coolers hauled to the site by her father, Rob, and mother, Karin Rossi Gleason. The treats are baked the day before with help from volunteer friends and family in a commercial kitchen at St. Peter's Methodist Church.

The production schedule doesn't leave the teen much beach time: Fridays are spent purchasing baking supplies; Mondays mean prepping and peeling the fruit; Tuesday is baking day, when crusts are hand-formed into the perfect vessels for South Jersey's bounty of produce.

"Everything is baked at the last possible minute so it is fresh," said Gleason, who hopes to study at the Culinary Institute of America after graduating.

On market days, the flaky blueberry, apple, and peach pies and crumble-topped cobblers will be gone within a few hours of opening. Afterward, the family will visit other vendors, purchasing dozens of flats of blueberries, baskets of peaches, and other fruits for the next week.

While most of the other booths at the farmers' market operate as private, moneymaking businesses that support the region's farm families, Gleason's is different.

She began her enterprise last summer after speaking with her church pastor. She sold about 100 pies a week last year at $18 apiece and raised about $6,000 after expenses.

This year, she's bringing 150 pies to the market, plus cobblers, and a popular pie-on-a-stick confection that market-goers can eat out of hand. She donates her entire profit to God's Kitchen at St. Peter's United Methodist Church, where a monthly hot-meal program feeds seniors and the needy.

"I'm amazed at the support we get from the community," Gleason said. "People actually stand in line to buy our pies."

Renee Sikking, 29, of Vineland, said farmers' markets were popular because they put the grower (or baker) in direct contact with the consumer.

"That means the consumer really can't get their produce or flowers any fresher than here. I think that's what really appeals to people," said Sikking, whose Dutch ancestors came from Holland to South Jersey in the early 1900s to raise and sell flowers.

Sikking also sets up shop weekly at farmers' markets in Margate and Collingswood.

Lynne Richmond, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture, said New Jersey's farmers' markets, coupled with the Jersey Fresh brand, were among some of the most successful in the nation.

Created in 1984, Jersey Fresh, she said, is the oldest "buy-local" campaign in the United States.

The markets help showcase not only the state's more than 10,000 family farms, Richmond said, but also its top ranking as a producer of fruits and vegetables, including blueberries, peaches, and squash.

The resiliency of New Jersey farmers and the Shore is evident, she said, in the reopening of the Seaside Park farmers' market this year after Hurricane Sandy nearly washed away the marina where it's held three days a week.

"Farmers' markets at the Jersey Shore not only serve local populations," Richmond said, "but really add to a visitor's overall experience."

Shore Farmers' Markets

Atlantic County

Atlantic City, S. Carolina & Atlantic Ave., 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays & Saturdays through Sept. 28. Margate, 9700 Amherst Ave., 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 26.

Cape May County

Ocean City, Sixth & Asbury Ave., 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays through Sept. 4.

Sea Isle City, 40th & Pleasure Ave., 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Aug. 27.

Stone Harbor, 95th & Second Ave., 8 a.m. to noon Sundays through Sept. 1.

West Cape May, 732 Broadway, 3 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Aug. 27.

Ocean County

Point Pleasant Beach, Route 35 North & Arnold Ave., 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 29.

Seaside Park, J St. & Central Ave., 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Fridays through Sept. 2; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 8 to Oct. 13.


Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo. Read the Jersey Shore blog, "Downashore," at inquirer.com/downashore.

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