Amid bushels of heirloom tomatoes and baskets of fresh baked rolls, Lansdale residents gather each Saturday from June to November to chat with their neighbors at the town's popular farmer's market.
This sense of community — along with the public's increasing desire for locally harvested food — has grown the Lansdale Farmers' Market from the dream of a few residents in 2008 to a local landmark with big plans for 2011.
"People make it a part of their weekend," said market spokeswoman Molly Daveler. "They'll stop by to get some fresh fruit and then spend a couple hours talking with folks from their neighborhoods that they don't get a chance to see often because we're all so busy."
Located along Railroad Avenue between Main and Vine Streets, right next to borough hall, the farmers' market features stands from more than a dozen local farms, as well as Lansdale's artisan bakers, wine producers and craftsmen.
Vendors included Lansdale's own Overbrook Herb Farm and Jett Produce from nearby Telford.
"It's such a warm family atmosphere," said vendor Candy Pack, owner of Green Street Luxuries, a Broad Street boutique featuring handmade soaps, soy candles and aromatherapy supplies. "People stop by every week to say hello to us, even if they're not buying something that day. It's nice to chat with neighbors, and to hear what people want, and what they want to see in Lansdale. It's the highlight of our week."
While fresh produce is the star of the market, organic coffee, fresh cut flowers and locally made candy draw visitors each week. The market invites vendors from within a 250-mile radius of Lansdale, allowing farmers from Lancaster and crafters from Philadelphia to sell their wares.
Offering a variety of goods gives market visitors more choices, Daveler said, especially in the first few weeks of the season when few crops are ready for harvest.
There's also entertainment events planned throughout the season, including story hours and magic shows for the youngsters and live music from local bands.
The seeds for the market were planted by J.R. Briggs, pastor of Renew Community Church in Lansdale. He said he came up with the idea after talking with town council members about what the community needed.
"I was there in the dreaming phase of the market. The current group of volunteers who run it now do a terrific job," Briggs said. "My wife and I go every week, to shop, to have a cup of coffee and chat. I think it's really bringing the community together in a way not a lot of people expected."
The market's success is also breathing new life into Lansdale's business corridor, Pack said. Merchants who may have been hesitant to set up shop in town see a weekly gathering of potential customers at the Farmers' Market.
"I truly believe that we have First Fridays because of the success of the market," Pack said. "Now we have some new restaurants in town, and Lansdale is becoming a more attractive place to do business."
Responding to a rallying cry of "Eat Local," farmers' markets are experiencing a resurgence in recent years. At least 898, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are staying open year-round, even in states with cold winters, like Pennsylvania.
Since some of its vendors, including Jett's Produce, grow vegetables in high tunnels and greenhouses, a longer market season may happen in the future, Daveler said.
"It's something the committee is talking about," she said.
The Lansdale Farmers' Market committee is made up of three vendors and three community volunteers who meet monthly to plan and organize. There are more frequent meetings during months the market is open.
Customers are kept informed of what's going to be available each week through a weekly e-newsletter and the market's Facebook page and Twitter updates.
The market is set to reopen in June 2011, although a date has not yet been set, Daveler said. Most of last year's vendors are returning, with new sellers being added to the lineup.
Daveler said she'll be shopping along with the rest of the market enthusiasts once it begins, looking for fresh lima beans and other delicacies.
"There's something so wonderful about buying food from the farmer who grew it. Often, the farmer's family is working the stands with him, so you get to meet his children, see his young daughter who your money is going to buy school supplies for," Daveler said. "Plus, there's no way of getting around it—fruits and vegetables from the farmer's market are always better than what you can buy at the grocery store."
For more information, visit www.LansdaleFarmersMarket.org.