By Jill Keppeler firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — It’s a rainbow scene these summer days at the North Tonawanda Farmers Market.
At the height of the season, an array of tomatoes, apricots and peaches, sunflowers, cucumbers and zucchini, blueberries and eggplant waited on vendors’ tables this week for shoppers to inspect. Many customers carried laden shopping bags back to nearby cars, while some pushed carts or even pulled wagons.
Pam Lederhouse of the Herb & Pam Lederhouse Farm of Ransomville, whose offerings included those huge, bright sunflowers as well as eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and yellow beans, was working her first weekday at the market since her recent retirement. While she’s been personally coming to the market for five years, she said, the stand has been there more than 30.
Business on the cloudy morning was intermittent as opposed to busy, Lederhouse said, but the past Saturday may have been the busiest day she’s ever seen.
“My green beans sold out by 9 a.m., and all the corn in the market sold out by 11 a.m.,” she said. “You could hardly move. This year has been a good year.”
This past Sunday through this Saturday marks National Farmers Market Week, an event created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote and celebrate the country’s farmers markets. According to the USDA, 8,144 markets are now listed in the USDA’s directory, a 3.6 percent increase from 2012 and up from about 5,000 in 2008. New York state is second on the list of states with the most markets with 637 (behind California).
Market clerk John Long also said 2013 has been a good year for the market, which opened back in 1908 and now offers 132 spots for vendors at its location at Robinson Road and Payne Avenue.
“We’ve expanded as much as we can without adding new land ... which would be nice, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. “We’re lucky in this area. We have fertile soil for growing things a lot of areas can’t grow. Things are going great.”
At the stand run by Diller-Raby Farms of Lewiston, hand-lettered signs guarded items for sale, advertising “sweet & juicy peaches” and warning “Don’t squeeze me ‘til I’m yours.” Janet Raby, whose family has owned the farm for seven generations, said it’s been a good year for fruit, which is their mainstay.
“It’s much better than last year,” she said. “Last year, everything froze. We didn’t have any peaches or apricots or many apples, or anything.”
Nearby, at the market spot run by Sunnyside Farms of Cambria, John Rybarczyk and his cousin Tracy Rybarczyk worked to sell all manner of produce, including peaches, apricots, corn and more. Business, they said, was doing well -- although John Rybarczyk acknowledged some delays in vegetables.
“The rain didn’t help as much as you’d imagine it would,” he said. “It slowed things down, but now they are catching up.”
That said, customers don’t seem to mind.
“It’s been good, very good,” Tracy Rybarzyk said. “I think people are trying to eat more local produce, and they’re trying to buy more at farmers markets instead of Tops.”
If many of the vendors have been visiting the market for decades, the same is true of their customers. David Burgstahler of Grand Island, who was taking a look at the produce for sale at the stand run by Seneck Farms of Ransomville, said he’s been visiting the market for a long time.
“This is a wonderful market,” he said. “It’s so bright, the colors, and the bounty of vegetables. It’s a social place. We’ve been coming here for years, and we know everybody by name. It’s like ‘Cheers.’ “
There were some grumbles about the market presence of non-farm vendors, such as those selling clothing items or “flea market” merchandise, or those stands selling produce that’s not truly local farm-or home-grown.
Carly Freiert, who sells produce at the market with her grandfather, Elmer Moje, said the “hucksters” (as Moje calls them) can be discouraging to the farm vendors.
“When a customer comes in with $25 in her pocket, that’s a lot of fruit and vegetables ... or it’s a dress or sunglasses,” she said. “It’s frustrating.”
Long acknowledged the complaints, but said there’s an upside to the situation.
“The other vendors, they bring in the younger people,” he said. “It’s a way to get them in — and then they find out about the fruits and vegetables here, and you can’t beat the prices.”
Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JillKeppeler.IF YOU GO • WHAT: North Tonawanda Farmers Market • WHEN: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays • WHERE: City Market, corner of Payne Avenue and Robinson Road, North Tonawanda