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Mountain Home Magazine

Cultivating Community

Apr 18, 2014 05:24PM

Shoppers will be coming to their senses this month when the Williamsport Growers Market returns to its traditional Saturday morning post—in a large parking lot at the intersection of Little League Boulevard, Hepburn, and Pine streets.

With delights appealing to all five senses, the popular rite of spring offers simple pleasures—the smell of burgers grilling, the sight of vibrant blossoms, the sound of cheerful voices, the taste of fruit-filled crêpes, the warmth of neighbors’ hugs.

There’s community growing here.

Held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday, the Growers Market is a year-round event, wintering over in facilities owned by the Williamsport Parking Authority. But, the gathering is in full bloom with the return to its outdoor venue. This year, that occurs on May 4, and outside activity will continue through mid-November.

With thirty-four vendors at peak season, the market features local products: fruits, vegetables, meats, artisan breads and other baked goods, cheeses, eggs, oils, syrups, sauces, soaps, fiber goods, clothing, pottery, dog biscuits, bedding plants, and flowers. Each vendor must create at least 80 percent of the goods they sell and the items must be Pennsylvania-made.

Bountiful crops line rows at the Williamsport Growers Market, a popular Saturday morning ritual in the city.

Anne Nordell, board president of the Williamsport Growers Market and owner of Beech Grove Farm, a certified organic farm near Trout Run, says the market has been in existence in some form since the 1970s, but has flourished in recent years along with the national “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” movement.

“There’s a renewed appreciation for local products, and we have grown substantially,” Nordell said, noting that some vendors have been at the market for over twenty years while others are more recent additions to the scene. All market members follow a set of rules and regulations that ensure a high quality of merchandise, she adds.

The bylaws appeal to Alison Kaminski, owner of her home business, Simply Mediterranean, who is beginning her eighth year at the market.

“There’s a lot of integrity behind the scenes as far as the products,” Kaminski stated. “I really like the fact that eighty percent of what you sell has to be produced by you; you can’t resell product. The strong integrity of the market is one of its biggest pluses.”

Affectionately called “The Crêpe Lady” by some customers, Kaminski credits her entire business to the outdoor Growers Market. When she first started selling at the event, she simply sold “a few loaves of bread,” but she soon spotted an opportunity for expansion.

“I was able to find a niche that no one else was doing and the business grew itself into what it is today,” she said.

Free samples, made with locally grown beef, breads, and garden produce, are often distributed at the weekly event.

Kaminski says she “has always followed a Mediterranean diet” and her creations have emerged from that devotion. Traveling to Europe for cooking classes, she sought out European farmers’ markets for ideas to bring back home. It was there that she got the idea to make crêpes. Now in her fourth year of creating crêpes at her stand on Saturdays, she revels in gathering fillings from fellow vendors and crafting breakfast and lunch crêpes.

She also sells soups, hummus, spanakopita, and spelt flour baked goods. Her biggest seller at the moment is macarons, a meringue French pastry.

Kaminski is sweet on the friendships she has developed at the Williamsport Growers Market.

“Out of all the markets I’ve been in, this one is the most supportive,” she offered. “We have a great rapport with our customers.”

David Mundrick, of Mundricks Greenhouse in Cogan Station, agrees that it’s the people that he appreciates most at the gathering.

“I enjoy the customers. We have a really good clientele,” Mundrick said. “And, I like the other vendors, too. They’re super. We try not to step on each other’s toes. We’ve got a real good selection of vendors. We’ve definitely gotten larger.”

Nordell says the return of the outdoor market is exciting for customers and vendors alike.

Apple mint is among the sweet ‘scent-sensations’ of spring.

“Every year, we’re meeting friends again that we haven’t seen in a couple of months,” Nordell related. “They’re not just somebody buying your food—you’ve formed relationships with them. And, they’re so appreciative of what you’re producing.”

Asked if she has a vision for the market’s future, Nordell noted three prospects. For starters, she’d like to see the hiring of a market manager since volunteer time has reached its maximum capabilities and marketing opportunities abound thanks to the Internet and social media. Also, at some point, market vendors hope to expand payment methods to include the acceptance of credit, debit, and SNAP cards. Long-term, Nordell dreams of one day having a covered, open-air, post-and-beam structure that would suspend the need for the weekly set-up of canopy tents.

Cultivating community—and thriving itself—the Williamsport Growers Market appears to have a healthy future.

Cindy Davis Meixel resides near Williamsport and loves to buy different products at the Williamsport Growers Market.