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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A TRIP TO THE FARMERS MARKET

This article is slated to appear in the upcoming edition of The Furrow:


One job of an intern at Howell Farm is to help grow food. Another job is to help sell it.

Participants in Howell Farm’s internship program traveled to a local farmers market in Hopewell, NJ, this year in order to peddle select farm products – including honey, maple syrup, black beans, wheat flour, and cabbage.

Internship coordinator Rob Flory said the trips to the market served several good aims.

“They give interns some hands-on experience with farm stand operation,” he said. “They also help in promoting farm activities such as our weekend programs and the corn maze.” Alongside the food products, Howell Farm’s table featured flyers and farm calendars that shoppers could take home with them.

For many market-goers, a trip to the Howell Farm table proved educational.

“So you’re growing stuff out there, too?” asked the day’s first visitor.

Intern Matt Schofield said he enjoyed the feeling of community the market seemed to promote.

“When you go to the grocery store, it’s on a ‘I’m going to get what I need and leave basis,’” he said. “But at the farmers market, the people who I saw would stay for a while, chitchat, talk about the weather. So I learned a little bit more about trying to market to people on an individual basis. As a small farmer, sometimes you need to build personal relationships with people in order to sell your product.”

Schofield said he also liked seeing the end result of the farming process.

“I really enjoyed the fact that I was able to help with a certain product from start to finish,” he said.

Another benefit of the market experience for the interns was that it allowed them to network with and learn from farmers, interns, and business owners at other local farms and shops. Sellers at the Hopewell market have included Griggstown Farm in Princeton, the Village Bakery in Lawrenceville, North Slope Farm in Lambertville, WoodsEdge Wools Farm in Stockton, the Highland Company Gourmet Market in Kingwood Twp., Olsson’s Fine Foods in Lawrenceville, and Cherry Grove Organic Farm in Princeton.

“People come to the market to meet other people,” said Rudie Smit, owner of Olsonn’s Fine Foods. “It’s almost like a coffee shop.”

But that good feeling of community among sellers and shoppers isn’t the sole reason these businesses attend the market. A resurgence of interest in eating local food and supporting local food producers has also made these markets profitable.

“I do five markets a week this year,” said Village Bakery owner Bo Child. “I can sell more bread at a small market in one day than I could sell in an entire week at my shop."

Andrea Chiotti, an intern at North Slope Farm, said being present at the market gives her the opportunity to communicate with customers about the true cost of food.

“A woman said to me last week that $5 for a bag of salad mix is way too much,” Chiotti said. “But I was able to tell her about the process involved in growing it and bringing it to market. After we had the conversation, she understood why it cost $5. And she did buy the salad mix.”

Ben Avila, owner of the Highland Company Gourmet Market, said his customers also want to know more about the products they are buying than just what they cost.

“The main question I get from my customers is where does the food come, especially with the animals, and how are they treated?” he said.

Kate Douthat, an intern at Cherry Grove Organic Farm, explains it this way why many of her stand’s customers have become regulars:

“They come because they know us,” she said.

The Hopewell Farmer’s Market is open Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the parking lot of the Hopewell railroad station. During the winter, the market moves inside to the adjacent railroad shed.


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