To Market, To Market
Over the last dozen years, the Rehoboth Beach Farmers’ Market has become a Tuesday institution under the guiding hand of Pat Coluzzi
Most people wouldn’t take on an unpaid part time job to avoid driving to a grocery store, but thankfully Pat Coluzzi isn’t one of them. She didn’t want to leave her idyllic little town of Rehoboth Beach during the busy summer months to face the highway traffic. “It was either sit in a car for ten minutes at each stoplight or start a farmers’ market.” A huge believer in buying local, Coluzzi wanted to reduce her carbon footprint as well as have access to fresh, seasonal and truly local, produce.
So a dozen years ago Coluzzi opened the second farmers’ market in Sussex County at Grove Park in Rehoboth. The Lewes Market had started the year previously and Coluzzi asked vendors if they would be willing to participate in another market. “The vendors jumped at the chance,” she remembers. “It was an opportunity to make better money and to make long term connections with both the direct customer and the chefs in town.”
Pat Coluzzi makes being a Market Master look easy. She is serene and unflappable as she sets up the market and commands a virtual army of volunteers. Getting everyone organized, lined up, and tents raised in less than two hours is tricky, and Pat darts around Grove Park resolving issues of power and signage. Once the trucks and trailers have all arrived and are in place, Coluzzi does a market walk through to make sure she knows what everyone has to offer that day. She stops and speaks with each farmer, complimenting them on their products or asking how much longer some crops will be available. She lingers at Kathleen Moss’s Fox Briar Farm stand and samples a few of the beautiful baby greens. She stops at Lavender Fields and spritzes one of the sample lavender mosquito sprays on her legs. When everyone is ready, she signals for the bell to be rung. Hovering shoppers head to their favorite stands and vendors, and within seconds the bell sounds become a babble of laughter and chatting.
While Rehoboth Farmers’ Market is in its twelfth year, Coluzzi’s new market at Nassau Vineyards is just entering its third season. “Each market is different,” she notes from experience, after helping start several others. “You never know what the perfect balance of produce, baked goods, and prepared food vendors is going to be until you see how the customers react.” What they all have in common is being hand-picked by Coluzzi from the applications received. Farm visits are just the beginning. Coluzzi makes sure the farms are growing what they are selling; she is also a stickler for stand appearance and quality.
“The market is an experience.” Coluzzi says. “I want to make sure that locals and tourists have a great time at each and every market. People are more interested in investing in experiences than things, and the farmers’ market can be one of those experiences each week. Combine that with the value of knowing your farmer, the one degree of separation in a small town, and truly local produce -- and it’s an afternoon’s entertainment that just can’t be beat.”
Customers seem to agree with Coluzzi. In the last decade the number of farmers’ markets in Sussex County has grown from two to over twenty-five weekly.
“Nassau Vineyards has all the right attributes to make a great market -- sangria, live music, enough parking, and vendor space where you can really create a dynamic environment,” said Coluzzi.
Marie Mayor of Lavender Fields has been at both markets since the beginning, in addition to many others. Mayor defines her motivation to participate in multiple markets as a way to “build a stronger community by uniting local farmers with health-conscious consumers. We support the local economy, create local employment and promote sustainable agriculture. We improve the community’s access to high quality nutritious food.”
Kristen Homan and her her Seez’nan Seasonings line are newcomers to both the Nassau and Rehoboth markets. A fiery 5’2” ginger with an infectious laugh, Homan is often three sentences ahead of herself while she is speaking. I met her as she was working on recipe development in her Bohemian Lewes kitchen, pursuing her quest to become a farmers’ market entrepreneur by filling out the applications. I was happy to taste-test her wares to help Pat Coluzzi out. I mean, after all, what are friends for?
“Why sell at the farmers’ market instead of more traditional grocery venues?” I ask. Homan clears her throat and launches in, while I struggle to take notes and taste as many samples as possible. I am happy to let her do all the talking so I can just eat.
“A farmers’ market is an opportunity to be my own version of Mr. Hooper of Sesame Street minus the curmudgeonly aspect and, sadly, without puppets,” she reflects. “At the market, I hear what people want to know and what they are interested in buying and I can fill in the gaps with my recipes and seasonings. I can be my best entrepreneurial self and meet people in our neighborhoods and talk all things food, nature, and growing. It’s my tiny store that is a valuable part of the community.”
Top that Sesame Street. Top that.
Rehoboth Beach Farmers Market Tuesday 11 am, May-October, Grove Park rbfarmersmarket.com