Roadside markets draw customers
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Left/Above: Sherri and Bart McIlvaine, of Williamstown, went to Ron’s Gardens for the first time to spruce up their home. Right: Kylie Hogan and Zora Alfonso of Waretown Farms said that tomatoes are very popular
HAMMONTON—Among the more popular attractions during the warmer months of the year are roadside farm markets. Regional residents regularly make their way to Hammonton and the surrounding environs for fresh produce, flowers and more.
Barbara Eimer, of Ron’s Gardens on 14th Street, has noted an uptick in business, and believes that it may be in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
“People have been spending a lot of time home and rediscovering their gardens,” Eimer said.
Business, Eimer said, has “been fairly good, which is great.”
“They do such beautiful work here, especially with the beautiful baskets that our girls make. Vegetables are very popular, because everybody, I think, is doing more vegetable gardens because they’re not going anywhere. I think COVID has had a lot to do with it. You’re always busy; out the door you go. But, with everyone staying home, they’re like, ‘You know what? We need to refresh our yards.’ What better way than to put beautiful annuals in?” Eimer said.
Improving the aesthetics of their home is what brought Bart and Sherri McIlvaine, of Williamstown, to recently travel to Ron’s Gardens for the first time.
“This is our first time here. A friend of ours recommended it; he knows Barb, and that’s why we stopped by. They’ve got beautiful stuff, and we’re going to grab some. We’re buying flowers to put on our front porch to decorate a little bit. Our house is going up for sale, and we’re hoping to move to Hammonton,” Bart McIlvaine said.
At Fiorentino’s Farm Market on Rt. 73, owner Justin Arndt said that business has been “going great.”
“Local customers are out in full force, and the shore traffic’s picking up this year. Tomatoes, corn, blueberries, watermelon—everyone wants fresh produce to eat,” Arndt said.
Arndt said that one thing that sets Fiorentino’s Farm Market apart from others is that it is “more of a convenience store.”
“We’ve become more of a convenience store here. Instead of a typical farm market, they come in and, instead of just local corn or strawberries, they can get milk and eggs and out-of-state produce. They don’t have to make three stops anymore; they can make one stop and get everything they need for dinner,” Arndt said.
Walter and Susan Schrank, of Cherry Hill, said that they have been patronizing Fiorentino’s Farm Market for “a number of years.”
“We’ve watched them grow. We enjoy their fruit. It’s awesome. The employees are pleasant and very helpful. It’s clean, and everything is fresh,” Walter Schrank said.
Susan Schrank agreed.
“The produce is wonderful. You can’t get it any fresher,” Susan Schrank said.
Fresh produce is the main draw for customers at Pastore Orchards, Inc. on the White Horse Pike.
“We come here for tomatoes. We come down from by Berlin. It’s one of the closest ones, and we’ve never had a problem here,” customer Dan Eisinger said.
Employee Paige O’Brien said that Eisinger isn’t alone.
“We’ve had a lot of people ask for Jersey tomatoes so far, and they’ll be out soon,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said that, with the recent bouts of rain, their season has “been a little different.”
“We just got done strawberry season; they came out around Mother’s Day. They were really popular this season. The rain that we had for Memorial Day wiped out our strawberry crop ... Our cherries are pretty popular. We don’t grow them, but they’re usually a big hit. Same with the squash and the cucumbers, and the peaches,” O’Brien said.
The largest draw this time of year, though, is blueberries.
“They’re really popular this time of year. People usually come in and buy flats of them. They’re starting; they usually start around Father’s Day, but we started to pick early, which is nice. They’ll last until the end of July or the beginning of August, depending on how the season goes,” O’Brien said.
Blueberries are also popular at Waretown Farms on the White Horse Pike, along with other seasonal produce.
“The watermelons and the tomatoes are probably the most popular items right now,” co-owner Zora Alfonso said.
For Mullica Twp.’s Frank Stollenwerk, Waretown Farms offers a great deal of variety without having to travel far.
“We like to come here because it is local, and we try to buy a lot of our vegetables here. Every spring, we come here for the plants and do some landscaping,” Stollenwerk said.
Alfonso said that business has been steady, both this year and last year.
“We’re outside, so everybody felt comfortable coming out. It’s going good so far, knock on wood; everything’s good ... I think they’re all relieved that the masks are finally done with,” Alfonso said.
The desire to be outside has also brought customers to the Red Barn Café and Pie Shop on Rt. 206.
According to employee Nieves Hernandez, things have been “pretty busy, especially with the soccer tournaments.”
“During the week we’re steady, but during the weekends we’re busy; everyone wants to go out,” Hernandez said.
Owner Evelyn Penza said “bodacious” blueberries were a customer favorite.
“There was a soccer tournament, and we shared our blueberries with everybody. We had blueberry pie, and blueberry pancakes and blueberry muffins—and we’re going to get into blueberry tea, also; that’s going to be a newbie ... It’s exciting, because our farm has been picking blueberries and the bushes are loaded—absolutely loaded with magnificent, bodacious blueberries,” Penza said.
Hernandez said that the most popular items, however, are their fruit pies—especially the blueberry pies.
“Blueberries are in season and everybody’s going crazy for them,” Hernandez said.
Penza noted that customers are also drawn to their quiches, which are made with produce supplied by her son Freddy and his fiancée, Christina.
“Christina, has a marvelous garden in the backyard; it’s huge. She grows everything from peas to string beans to broccoli—which, as a kid, I’ve always hated, but I said, ‘Broccoli and brie; what a fabulous quiche that would make,’ and my customers go crazy over it. They love it,” Penza said.
The café also lends itself to social distancing, Penza said.
“It’s nice to sit out on the patio, or on the porch—or some folks just like to come on in, because our tables are six feet apart in here and outside. It’s nice. It is nice,” Penza said.
The Red Barn Café and Pie Shop isn’t the only farm market that offers dining options. At Captain Nick’s Seafood, located at the Green Thumb Garden Center on the White Horse Pike, owner Stephen Calcese said that they will be offering carry-out seafood on the weekends.
“Customers can come in and take out trays of cooked seafood, or they can eat it outside—we built a little outside dining area—and we’re also doing a raw bar on the weekends, with shucked clams and oysters,” Calcese said.
Calcese said that flower sales at the market have been strong, particularly the hanging baskets, but their main source of excitement is the fresh seafood that has started to come in.
“Now that the oceans are warming up a little bit, that the fish are starting to migrate in. We’re getting daily shipments of fresh swordfish and tuna, Jersey flounder. We’re getting a lot of sea bass and golden tilefish; they’re all starting to show up again ... The clams are really nice this year, nice and clean with a lot of salty flavor to them,” Calcese said.
Additionally, Calcese said, the crabs “just started running.”
“Everybody’s showing up, and they’re getting their first crabs of the season. The first crabs always seem to be the best ones of the year. If you haven’t had them for months, you get those first ones and they just seem to taste a little better,” Calcese said.