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VENTNOR - It was a little after 10:30 a.m. Friday, and Dan Schewlakow had only a few herbs left to sell at the Ventnor Farmers Market in the Holy Trinity Church parking lot.
“I should have brought more,” Schewlakow said of the organic produce he grows at Waking Earth Farm in Millville.
This is the just the first year for the farmers market in Ventnor, but it has caught on quickly, with 27 vendors and a good supply of customers.
“We are pleasantly thrilled that so many people are supporting it,” organizer Penni Starer told The Press of Atlantic City.
The shore may have a lot to offer, but it doesn’t have farms. Farmers markets have grown in popularity along the shore, providing locally grown and homemade items to local residents and visitors, and giving small businesses more public exposure.
The key, organizers said, is variety and building a sense of community.
Susan Steinberg headed out of the Ventnor market with bags of fresh romaine lettuce, tomatoes and “the most magnificent mac and cheese” from Dekes, which also takes orders for ribs.
For those willing to drive a bit, a market is available almost every day of the week from Brigantine to West Cape May.
Starer said they picked Friday morning because it didn’t conflict with markets in nearby towns. Some of her vendors also go to Somers Point, which has afternoon and evening hours.
West Cape May has one of the oldest markets, now in its 16th season. Market manager Lauren Vitelli said the more than 50 vendors include fresh produce but also prepared food and crafts, including quilts and antiques. There is live music, and games entertain kids each week.
“We try to keep it fresh and new, with a good mix of vendors,” she said. “From October to May, I drag my kids to shows looking for new vendors.”
Most markets are held in the morning. West Cape May’s is from 3 to 7:30 p.m. so they can catch people coming home from the beach.
Running a farmers market is not without challenges, weather being the one no one can control. A successful event takes coordination to get the vendors set up, deal with traffic, and keep both vendors and customers happy.
Now in its fourth season, Brigantine’s Green Team, which runs the city farmers market, has more than 70 volunteers manager David Roantree said. Each week there is different entertainment, contests and a children’s activity tent.
“It has really grown into more than just a market,” said Roantree, who travels to other markets for ideas. He’d love to find a cheese maker and a butcher, but those he has found are already booked.
The markets are great marketing tools for small businesses, especially those that can also ship their items in the off season. The cost of a market space is typically $200 to $300 for a season, and some allow weekly pop-up spots.
Retired nurse Maria Papale, of Brigantine, started Loving Locavore two years ago to offer locally sourced vegetarian items. She also sold out quickly Friday, the goal of every vendor.
“I just do farmer’s markets,” she said. “I keep bringing more, and it still sells.”
Kizbee’s Kitchen in Galloway Township has a store, but market manager and assistant baker Victoria Smith said the markets expose them to new customers for their gluten-free products.
“We go to them so they don’t have to travel to us,” she said. Her trip to Ventnor included a custom order for a customer to pick up.
Teacher Ed Cuneo said the produce they grow at the family’s Spinella farms in Winslow Township is only sold at farmer’s markets.
“It’s my summer job, and we do very well,” he said as his daughter packed some fresh peaches for a customer. “People like local food.”