By Donald Wittkowski
Ocean City residents Carol and Jerry Meister eagerly await summer’s arrival each year.
No surprise, right? So does everyone else who lives in or visits the beach town that boldly touts itself as “America’s Greatest Family Resort.”
But listening to the Meisters talk, you get the impression that they might want to change the tourism slogan to “America’s Greatest Farmers Market.”
Big, juicy peaches and succulent corn on the cob are some of the things that make their summers special.
Although farmers markets are a common summer treat for motorists venturing out on the rural roads of South Jersey, the Meisters buy their fruits and vegetables right here in town, just a few blocks from the beach.
“These are the best peaches in New Jersey and the best corn in New Jersey,” Jerry Meister declared. “We wait for this for months.”
“Yes, we’re big fans of the farmers market,” his wife, Carol, added.
Now in its 18th year, the Ocean City farmers market offers the freshest New Jersey-grown produce. Farmers say Ocean City’s tourists, in particular, are surprised to learn that such an array of fruits and vegetables are harvested from South Jersey’s fields.
“We get people from Georgia or South Carolina who come here and they can’t believe that this is New Jersey produce,” said John Hurff Jr., whose family owns the William Schober and Sons Farm in Monroeville, Gloucester County.
Hurff, who operates a produce stand at the farmers market, also said that customers get the benefit of buying fruits and vegetables at prices typically below what the supermarkets charge for their produce.
Elaine Monteleone, whose husband owns Dave Monteleone Farms in Vineland, noted that farmers build up a loyal following of customers at Ocean City’s farmers market. Monteleone Farms has been a vendor at the market for 17 years, she said.
“It’s a great market,” Monteleone said. “I can’t complain about a thing.”
The farmers market is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Wednesday on the grounds of the Ocean City Tabernacle at Sixth Street and Asbury Avenue. After another successful run this summer, it will close down for the season after Sept. 6.
Organized by the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, the market features 45 food stands and another 45 vendors who sell homemade crafts. Rose Savastano and Nancy Neal, co-managers of the market for the Chamber of Commerce, said they are always looking for ways to improve what they believe is already the “No. 1 farmers market.”
“We are the best of the best. We have everything,” Savastano said.
The location of the market on the Asbury Avenue commercial corridor also benefits the downtown merchants. Once they are done buying their fruits and vegetables, customers will stroll over to the downtown businesses to do some shopping or eat at local restaurants, Neal pointed out.
Another noteworthy component of the farmers market is that it is kid-friendly. While the parents are picking out fruits and veggies, the children can stop across the street for tours of the Ocean City firehouse on Sixth Street. Police officers are also at the farmers market to mingle with the kids, Neal said.
To accommodate the vendors, Asbury Avenue is closed to motor vehicle traffic at Sixth Street. The street is turned into a miniature tent city featuring local vendors selling everything from handmade artwork to stylish clothes to fine jewelry and much, much more.
One shopper, Kelli Sandifer, a vacationer from Glassboro, was surprised to find fresh flowers being sold at the farmers market. Sandifer is the owner of a Gloucester County flower business called Mullica Hill Floral Co.
“Obviously, I miss being around flowers,” Sandifer said of her vacation time spent away from her floral business. “I just love seeing so many flowers here. They are of very high quality.”
Mays Landing-based Parkerhouse Flowers, which was selling the flowers that Sandifer admired, has been a vendor at the farmers market for 10 years. Parkerhouse’s Tina Parker, who owns the business with her husband, Tom, said the market has helped them to build up their sales over the years by reaching out beyond Mays Landing.
“There is a lot of good traffic flow here,” Tina Parker said. “We see a lot of the same people every week and every year. They like it that all of these flowers are grown in New Jersey.”