By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The good-natured chants resounded through the Ocean City Farmers Market on Wednesday morning.
“Four more weeks! Four more weeks!” the vendors at the popular summertime market called out in unison.
Unfortunately, though, the farmers market closed out its rather unusual – but ultimately successful – season on Wednesday after a 14-week run amid the coronavirus pandemic. Fear not, market aficionados, it will return next summer.
“All of the farmers did just as well this summer as last year. We had good crowds, too,” said Rose Savastano, special events coordinator for the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, the sponsor of the farmers market.
Although farmers markets are a common summer treat for motorists venturing out on the rural roads of South Jersey, this one gives Ocean City’s residents and tourists a chance to buy their fresh fruits and vegetables right here in town, just a few blocks from the beach.
“It is certainly better than going to the grocery store,” said Ocean City resident Scott Wood, who shopped at the farmers market every week over the summer.
Wood said the prices are more affordable than those at a grocery store and the produce is fresher. On Wednesday, he bought a basket of red apples for only $3.
“I’m going to miss it,” Wood said of the market closing down for the off-season. “I would be here every Wednesday if I could.”
Candice Kolins, joined by her 3-year-old-daughter, Siena, bought some tomatoes, apples and mozzarella cheese at the market.
“This is for dinner tonight,” Kolins said while Siena eyed up an apple. “I think I’m going to make a mozzarella and tomato salad. I may pick up some scallops, too.”
Kolins, who, along with her sister, Kristen Vogelbacher, owns the Cruise Control Gear shop in downtown Ocean City, noted that she is a loyal customer at the market.
“We were so excited when they extended the market through September. This has been going great,” she said.
The market features dozens of food stands and vendors who sell homemade crafts on the grounds of the Ocean City Tabernacle. 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.
The market runs every Wednesday during the summer. However, it started a week late this year because of the coronavirus restrictions statewide. To make up for the late start, the Chamber of Commerce extended the market through the entire month of September instead of ending it, as usual, on the first Wednesday after Labor Day.
Savastano said the Chamber will likely continue with the extended schedule through all of September for the 2021 summer season.
This year, the farmers market was able to capitalize on the crowds that remained in town well past the traditional Labor Day cutoff to the peak summer tourism season, Savastano explained. Many of Ocean City’s second homeowners and their school-age children have stayed at the shore to escape the coronavirus outbreak in the major cities.
The farmers market is a high-profile example of the Chamber of Commerce’s “shop local” theme. It serves as a magnet for local shoppers who fan out through the rest of the Asbury Avenue downtown business district after they buy their fruits and vegetables.
“They continue shopping down on the Avenue,” Savastano said.
In response to the pandemic, the vendors and shoppers were required to wear face coverings and practice social distancing. Signs were erected throughout the farmers market to remind everyone of the coronavirus restrictions.
Pleasant Valley Farm, based in Mays Landing, had a sign at its produce stand that read, “No mask, no service.”
“I know that I don’t like wearing a mask. I know nobody does,” Pleasant Valley owner Bill Boerner said while expressing sympathy for his customers who had to wear face coverings during summer’s hot weather.
Boerner operates a produce stand every year at the farmers market. Despite the coronavirus restrictions this summer, he did about the same amount of business as in previous years.
“I’ve been here since the beginning of the farmers market. That’s been close to 20 years. It was a good year this summer. It was comparable,” Boerner said of his sales.