Local folks, farms and food meld together at Farmers market

| 17 Jun 2014 | 04:45

What started as an idea to illuminate the community to local farmers, the Sparta Farmers Market has grown into a summer sensation where vendors and artisans talk animatedly about their goods. Customers eagerly snatch up produce that was picked that very morning, fresh meats, baked goods and homemade crafts. The market in its fourth year is held every Saturday in front of the municipal building in Sparta.

The market's origin
The idea for the market was hatched back in 2011 when Mitch Morrison and Ben DelCoro took notice of a blaring disconnect: it seemed the area was full of local farmers yet many members of the community had no idea they existed.

"The economy had hit bottom, and we wanted people to support our local farmers. We realized that there were so many of them in the area with world class product," DelCoro said.

A chef for 17 years and now national sales manager for Fossil Farms, DelCoro is the market's manager and said most people were "programmed' to buy their produce at a grocery store.

The premise of the market was to expose consumers to these local resources and generate business for the farmers.

"We felt the time was right for Sparta to have a grass roots, community-based farmers' market," said Morrison. "Once people saw how fresh and good everything was, it just took off from there and they became weekly customers."

The market was a huge success that first year and has grown to the point that there is now a waiting list for vendors.

"The vendors are great and love showing off their products," said DelCoro.

Vendors galore
When it comes to vegetables, Shawna Bengivenni — a vendor at the market — is the maestro and her multi-tiered garden in Wantage is her symphony. When he's not at the machine shop he owns in Franklin, her husband, Lou, is her right hand man, and they work together at the market both selling and educating customers about the vegetables. Their business is called Fresh as it Gets Gardens, and Bengivenni's specialty is heirloom tomatoes.

"I sell more here than the years when I was doing two different markets," she said. "I love the timing of the market too (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) because you can sell and still get back to work in the garden when it's over."

For Bill Percy, Saturday was his first day as a vendor at the market.

"I love the music and the people here are fantastic," he said as he sold solar lamps made by his wife and himself.

Based in Lake Hopatcong, their business is called Meredith's Landing and they feature several other products as well which they'll be bringing to the market in weeks to come.

Sparta Mountain Farm sells free range chicken eggs, jellies, jams, barbecue sauces and salsas. Located in Frankford Township and Wantage, Glenmalure Farm is all about fresh meat. With a strong focus on what their animals eat, their sheep and cattle are fed only grass, and do not receive hormones or antibiotics.

Churutabis Farm also sells meat at the market with its focus being on chicken, broilers, ducks, rabbits, guinea foul and turkeys. Like Glenmalure, they use neither antibiotics nor growth hormones.

Located in Branchville, Mosefund Farm features meat, too, and the animals they raise are fed grass, clover and barley. Another meat vendor is Roaming Acres Farm. Based in Lafayette, Roaming Acres is home to 400 ostriches, more than 100 hogs and as of late, two bison.

Lakeside Maple features trail mixes for healthy snacking while Mo Green Juice sells green drinks to boost the immune system. Their juices also help cleanse the system and are good for the brain.

Simply Planted, from West Milford, features a nice array of potted plants, and Rimi Pottery Studios, from Washington, N.J., has hand-crafted items. Highland Valley Apiaries has a host of local honey, and The Everlasting Garden, from Branchville, displays fresh cut flowers and herbs as well as something brand new this year.

"I enjoy the market because it's nice to be able to interact with people in Sussex County and get off the farm for a bit," Owner Suzanne Romania said. "It's pretty awesome."

Romania started making lotions this past winter. The essential oils are from plants she grows.

"It was so cold in our green house, and I needed something to add to my product list," she said.

Owned by "The Pickle Lady," Robyn Samra, Pickle Licious has been in business for more than 22 years. With the help of her husband, Ray Calvo, and her daughters, Samra has a store in Teaneck, but is also at the Sparta's Farmer's Market weekly with vats of pickles.

Ventimiglia Vineyards has an assortment of wines made from grapes grown on their vineyard in Wantage, and Kittatinny Mountain Farm has a large array of fresh produce. Known for its pies, Windy Brow, based in Newton, is on hand to sell pies, fruit and their now homemade ice cream.

For now, the market's produce booths flaunt lettuces, garlic, herbs and other beginning-of-the-season offerings, but as June fades into July and then August, they'll transition from green into a cornucopia of color as corn, tomatoes and peppers come into season. From there, autumn's oranges and yellows will manifest themselves in the form of squash, pumpkins and apples.