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It's New to Us by Jean Stratton

FARM FRESH: “This is a producer-only market. Everything is super-fresh, and we save energy by emphasizing local and area farmers and vendors.” Michael (Mikey) Azzara, manager of the Lawrenceville Farmers Market, is shown at the market on Gordon Avenue.

Lawrenceville Farmers Market Offers Locally-Grown Products

Local farmers’ markets are popping up like flowers in spring. With increasing consumer interest in healthy organic foods, sustainable farms and agriculture, and now worry over high energy costs, buying local is the way to go.

Local farmers’ markets have grown from 40 in 2000 to 103 in 2007, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. Every county in the state has at least one weekly community farmers market, and more are being launched all the time.

“People buy locally because they feel the food is safe, and of course, they support local farmers,” says Michael (Mikey) Azzara, the enthusiastic manager of the Lawrenceville Farmers Market. “Also, if you buy directly from the farm, you’ll get a reasonable price because there is no middle man.”

The Lawrenceville Market, located in the parking lot of Lawrenceville Fuel at 16 Gordon Avenue, Lawrenceville, is open every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June through October. Started in 2005, the market took root through the combined efforts of Mr. Azzara and the Lawrenceville Main Street Association.

Noticeable Gap

“I had been very interested in sustainability and worked at Cherry Grove Organic Farm on Carter Road, and I had also farmed in Italy,” says Mr. Azzara, whom everyone calls Mikey. “I had started a farmers’ market right behind Chambers Walk in Lawrenceville in 2003.”

He was also involved in setting up a program for children focusing on healthy eating, and he became outreach and educational coordinator of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), working out of the Pennington office. Time limitations forced him to discontinue the market, and it left a noticeable gap.

“People really missed it a lot, and they were asking for it. It was great to see there was really a demand for it,” he says. “It’s such a great way to support the farmers. So, the Lawrenceville Main Street Association asked me to talk about it, and I gave a presentation about what a full-fledged farmers’ market would be and what it would take to organize it. They asked if I would help, and this was in 2004. We had to decide who would be involved, farmers, etc., how many, location, and what day of the week to have it.”

Mr. Azzara already knew farmers in the area, and invited them to participate. “We had six farmers and vendors the first year,” he reports. “Now, we have 12 different vendors. We also expect to get two more this season. Village Farm in Lawrenceville and Hlubick Farm from Chesterfield, N.J.”

Participants include Terhune Orchards, Village Bakery, Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms (new this year), Valley Shepherd Creamery, Griggstown Quail Farm, and Gravity Hill Farm.

“Chambers Walk Cafe serves food on the site, including egg sandwiches and coffee, espresso and cappuccino. We also have live music and food demonstrations,” adds Mr. Azzara, who was a psychology major at Middlebury College.

Cooking Demonstrations

“The psychology in me knows that as humans, we need connectedness. With the market, we have connectedness to the farm, to the land, and to each other. I decided to have music because I knew I wanted it to be an event. We have jazz, folk, blue grass, and classic rock.”

The cooking demonstrations have been a big hit, and on a recent Sunday, Mr. Azzara was busy creating a frittata, using eggs from Cherry Grove Farm, portabella mushrooms, from Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms, sauteed in virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. “I want people to realize that there are very simple ways of cooking all these different fresh ingredients,” he points out.

Customers come from all over the area and include many regulars. All ages, they arrive in the morning on bikes, with wagons, and with kids. It resembles a mini-county fair, as people browse through the different tents where vendors exhibit their wares. The music adds to the festivities, and there are also tables and chairs for people to take a break and sample the goodies.

Everything seems to be popular, whether it’s artisan bread from the Village Bakery, blueberries, flowers, and organic vegetables from Terhune Orchards, sheep and cow’s milk cheese, yogurt and ravioli from Valley Shepherd Creamery (“one of the best cheese operations in New Jersey,” says Mr. Azzara), all kinds of poultry, game birds, quiches, or chicken pot pies from Griggstown Quail Farm, lettuce, herbs, and salad mix from Gravity Hill Farm, or crimini, shiitake, and portabello mushrooms from Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms.

Fresh, healthy food is the key, emphasizes Mr. Azzara. “We have an emphasis on organic and sustainable practices, and essentially we are looking for the best quality food we can find. Not everything is organic (that is, grown without chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers and no antibiotics or growth hormones), but everything is fresh and healthy. In fact, the demand today for organic products is going through the roof. The demand far exceeds the supply.

“We also support sustainable agriculture. Sustainability means ensuring that future generations have access to the same resources we do. Specifically with farms, that we still have farms to supply us with great food. We can help do this by supporting local farms and encouraging good stewardship of the land, such as taking care of the soil.”

Good Feeling

Mr. Azzara is delighted with the success of the market, and notes that even children are becoming involved in healthy and fresh food choices. “Sometimes, I think it’s the kids who bring their parents to the market!” Through NOFA, he has been helping kids with garden programs in Lawrenceville, Princeton, West Windsor, and Trenton. He especially enjoys seeing children come to the market.

“I had a very good feeling it would go well. I enjoy the consistency of it and the chance to be with the people. Every Sunday, I come with my dad to set up the market and the tents. My main job is to see that it happens and that I’m on site. Also, we always want to keep it new and fresh. I want the idea of the farmers’ market to become embedded in people’s sense of community here.”

As the Welcome sign to the market points out:

“By patronizing this community Farmers Market and buying locally, you:

• Enjoy the freshest, best-tasting, and most nutritious fruit, vegetables, and seafood;

• Save energy by reducing ‘food miles’ — how far your food travels;

• Support our family farms and farmers;

* Keep New Jersey’s farmland open and productive.”

The market is open every Sunday June through October 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (609) 206-0344.

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