By STACIE FANELLI
A mushroom buffet, freshly picked callaloo and a vegan lunch truck: all are staples for Red Bank Farmers Market customers, many of whom trek dozens of miles week for these delicacies, as well as clothing and art.
Everything, it seems, is homemade, handcrafted, passed down for generations or grown on a farm owned by someone who spent his life savings to buy it. Everything has a story.
Matthew Becker, an artist whose full-time job is running a karma yoga practice, comes every Sunday from Point Pleasant, even though he doesn’t do a tremendous amount of business selling his work. He uses the time to paint and to soak in the market atmosphere.
“I like to spread good vibes around for people,” he said, pointing out the “chill-out trance music” playing from his speakers in the parking lot of the Galleria at Red Bank. “It’s my most relaxing day of the week.”
Customers line up often at Adam Sobel’s Cinnamon Snail, a gourmet vegan restaurant on wheels. (Click to enlarge)
Becker said his abstract, colorful work fits well with the organic produce on sale all around him, offering a visual complement to the rich scents of produce and prepared foods. He noted that it takes a certain type of person to be a regular at a farmer’s market: peaceful and friendly.
Rows away is a tie-dye clothing stand to demonstrate his point. A few tables down, Corey Manvel explains to shoppers that mushrooms grown in hollowed-out trees have a unique taste, and he hands them bunches of the fungi to put to their noses.
“It tastes about as strong as it smells,” he tells one woman. “It’s very earthy.”
Crimini, portabella, shiitake, oyster and maitake: Manvel carries different sizes of each variety and provides recipes straight from his crops’ home of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, a town that bills itself as the Mushroom Capital of the World.
A few steps away, employees of the Yummy Yummy Good Stuff juice bar, visiting from their usual spot inside Red Bank’s Funk and Standard novelty store, serve up organic concoctions to wash down those mushrooms.
Yummy Yummy’s Luke McKenna, one of few truly local vendors at the market, said that he’s not intimidated by the out-of-towners at all. They’ve even become his friends. Glancing around at North Jersey cheeses and a pickle stand that makes the rounds at street fairs and carnivals, he said, “We just make juices.”
“But we make them with love!” added his co-juicer Chris Mozz.
“We’re here every week, and so is everyone else, and you really get to know everyone,” said McKenna, who attended a vegan culinary school.
Every though Yummy Yummy offers only half the menu it has in the Broad Street store, McKenna said it still sees an average of 80 customers an hour at the market.
One regular is Leanne Arcuri, a Brick resident who regularly drives out of her way to grocery shop at the farmers’ market.
“I always come here to get some of the organic vegetables I can’t typically get at my local health food store,” she said. “Would you rather support a local farmer or Whole Foods?” She added that organic supermarkets are great to have around to make healthy foods more accessible, but it’s important to support the people who grow the food with their own hands.
The market has been a Sunday tradition in town for 10 years now, and Papa Gino’s has been a part of every single one. One of the “originals,” along with the flower stand across the way, Emil Petrop proudly offers passers-by free samples with confidence, stemming from experience, that they’ll buy the ingredients to make his recipes themselves.
Roasted pepper and Romano cheese on multi-grain bread was a recent handout. After a taste, several impressed customers hung around the stand to chat with Petrop about the origins of Gino’s products. One even remarked, “I walked under this tent and bam I smelled my grandmother’s house in Poland.”
Fresh is the key word at the market, no matter how far vendors come. There’s an unspoken promise to shoppers that what they purchase will be unlike anything they could find in a store.
“If they’re buying cilantro that’s coming from Mexico, it could’ve been picked last week,” said Linda D’amico, the proprietor of East Gate Farm’s stand, for which every veggie is picked on Saturday.
Jerri Morris, a volunteer with the Red Bank Visitors’ Center, said there’s no shame in reaching outside the local sphere to give residents access to the highest quality products.
“There aren’t any local farms around anymore, so the farmers bring their stuff here to Red Bank, and the people from neighboring towns come to support them,” she said.
The farmers market runs on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through mid-November in the Galleria parking lot at West Front Street and Shrewsbury Avenue.