270-year-old Easton Farmers Market reinvents, thrives despite pandemic and economic hardships
EASTON, Pa. — On a sunny Saturday morning, the Easton Farmers Market is bustling. It’s time for the Apple Jam, and just about every vendor has some sort of apple variety or apple-themed treat.
In the background, Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” plays as people chat, mingle and stop by booths at Scott Park, at the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers.
- The Easton Farmers Market has been selling veggies and baked goods since 1752
- It's held 270 seasons and has seen ups and downs throughout national economic challenges and more recently a global pandemic
- The market has grown to 40 vendors, bringing fun, music and special events like the Oct. 15 Apple Jam
This season, the market's 270th, has been a good one, continuing the quick expansion it's seen in recent years.
But the Easton Farmers Market has been going on since 1752, and it's seen ups and downs — including, recently, the coronavirus pandemic and economic challenges.
But that hasn't stopped farmers and shoppers from attending.
Megan McBride, market district director for the market, said that in the 1970s and 1980s, it fell on hard times as farmers competed with urban sprawl as malls cropped up across the country and in the Lehigh Valley.
McBride said the early 2000s also saw hardships for the outdoor market. It had just one vendor due to other farmers falling on hard times.
"It was 2002 and her name was Gloria Fox,” McBride said of that lone vendor. “At that point, the community realized, ‘Hey, we better do something to revitalize this market or we’re gonna lose this gem of our community."
McBride said Fox passed away at the end of that season.
State Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Northampton) and Lynn Prior of Buy First Buy Local of the Greater Lehigh Valley started a grassroots movement to help save the market, according to McBride.
Over the course of 15 years, she said, the market took off and now has about 40 vendors.
“It’s a really strong thriving market. We average about 2,000 people every Saturday,” McBride said.
Vendors benefit from the market’s changes
Matt Salvaterra, owner of Salvaterra’s Gardens, has been coming to the farmers market for the last 15 years. He grows lettuce, collard greens, carrots, bell peppers, jalapeños and more with his family in Allentown.
Salvaterra said the growth the market has seen included a lot of "back and forth" motion.
“Back when we started, it was just starting where people were interested in buying local food," Salvaterra said. "It wasn’t nearly the same as what it is today, and in the past 15 years it expanded a lot rather quickly early on.”
“Back when we started it was just starting where people were interested in buying local food. It wasn’t nearly the same as what it is today and in the past 15 years it expanded a lot rather quickly early on.”Matt Salvaterra
The market's home has long been at Centre Square. But recent construction in Downtown Easton has forced vendors to relocate to a new spot by the Lehigh and Delaware rivers.
Jennifer McAtee of Holy Cow Flower Farm has been selling at the farmers market since 2019 with her husband, Bryan McAtee. She said it’s been a good move.
“It was very cozy in the circle, but out here with the beautiful view of the river, it’s a really nice place and it’s more of a park setting,” McAtee said.
The farmers market plans to stay at its current location, thanks to the enjoyment of the crowd and vendors in the new grassy space.
In an October 2021 meeting, plans for the farmers market to permanently relocate to Scott Park were brought to the attention of Easton City Council. While it would be a big change, vendors noted the park allows for easier set-up, and some said they had more room to expand their offerings.
Organizers said the COVID-19 pandemic also gave a boost to the market. It saw a return of people shopping outdoors rather in stores.
“During COVID, there were all these supply issues and people couldn’t get certain foods in the grocery store. A lot of people turn back to farmers markets,” McBride said. "We had everything. We didn’t suffer any shortages because our farmers kept on growing and our bakers kept on baking and people could shop outside and feel safe.”
McBride also said the farmers market was a way for people to socialize while getting their groceries and goods. At the new Scott Park location there’s a playground for kids and a stage for live music.
McBride said farmers markets are essential all year to help keep agriculture workers employed. Greenhouses and other indoor farming options let farmers continue to grow during the winter so people can still stock up on fresh seasonal produce.
EFM events for the rest of the season
While this past weekend was Apple Jam, there will more fall activities for people to experience before temperatures drop:
Oct. 29 - Pumpkins and Pooches
Everyone deserves a Halloween, even dogs. There will be a dog costume contest. For kids, a pumpkin carving contest along with crafts for the little ones.
Nov. 5 - No Farmers Market
The 2022 Pa. Bacon Fest will be in full swing at Centre Square and in the Downtown area.
December - Photos with Santa throughout the month
Come get photos with your family or by yourself with Santa in December.
The Easton Farmers Market runs 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at Scott Park. For more information, visit www.EastonFarmersMarket.com