Unphased by COVID, Haddonfield Farmers Market opens for 15th year

Vendors hawk wares on Kings Court for first time since 2019.

A traditional ribbon cutting officially commenced the beginning of the 2021 season for the Haddonfield Farmers Market, in its return to Kings Court on May 15. Pictured from left: Local business owner Morgan Falasca; Market president at Republic Bank Joe Tredinnick; Farmers Market Director Ralph Cialella; New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher; Director of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Division of Marketing and Development, Joe Atchison; Haddonfield Commissioners Frank Troy and Colleen Bianco Bezich; Dave Ralic of Society; Joe Murphy from the Haddonfield Foundation, and Allison Nagle of the Allison Nagle Team from ReMax. (Photo credit: Devon Perry/Special to the Sun)

When the Haddonfield Farmers Market closed down its operation on Kings Court in October 2019, nobody could have predicted it wouldn’t return to its traditional location, in its intended form, for more than 18 months. 

But on May 15, the market’s 15th season commenced under blue skies, with the smell of fresh produce and commerce carried by warm breezes. 

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“We always had the intention of coming back here,” said market Director Ralph Cialella. “When we closed the previous March, we said to our friends, ‘We’ll see you in two weeks,’ because we didn’t think COVID was going to be that extensive.”

Cutting the ribbon to officially begin the five month, open air blitz were Haddonfield’s commissioners, as well as special guest Douglas H. Fisher, New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture. They presided over a start that’s only expected to get better as it goes along.

”Today, we only have 13 (vendors). We normally have around 30, and you’ll see that gradually increase through the season,” Cialella stated. “We had 47 applicants this year because there are a lot of applicants that couldn’t sell stuff in the last two years who are raring to go.”

Last year, in the uncertain early months of the pandemic, the market survived because Cialella was able to strike a deal to put several tents in the parking lot of Archer & Greiner, located on West Euclid Avenue, for Saturdays starting in May. 

“Then we said, ‘We’ll see you on Memorial Day,’ but we didn’t have anywhere to go,’ he noted. “Fortunately, Archer & Greiner supported us and were kind enough to let us use that lot.”

But the personal touch was all but gone. Cars drove up, drivers or passengers rolled down their windows to collect preselected and bagged goods from masked and gloved personnel who  included Cialella himself, then drove off.

“We’re so happy to get back here. This is our home, Cialella said, with a sweeping hand gesture to indicate the entire strip. “It’s our 10th year in the court, and you can see this is where we belong.”

Work to prepare Kings Court for an eventual return began as soon as the truncated 2020 season came to a close, at a time when COVID numbers seemed to fall, then sharply rise. 

“The commissioners were apprehensive last year, but this year, they’re way more flexible,” Cialella explained. 

Commissioner for Public Safety, and now Mayor-elect Colleen Bianco Bezich, provided guidance for a safe and almost complete operation. Market principals had to present the diagram of the facility’s initial phase about six months ago, then formulate plans from there on possible modes of expansion.   

“It was a lot of work,” Cialella admitted. “Nobody knows how hard this was to do more than me.”

On the first day, the market opened only to essential businesses that specialized in selling produce-related items and other foods.

Ciallella admitted he didn’t show any favoritism, despite knowing people who sell things like art and picture frames deemed nonessential items now. He expects to increase the roster soon, and when it happens, vendors are expected to be spread out into town more than in years past. 

“That’s our goal, in June,” Ciallella added. “To open up the sidewalks on Kings Highway and have events catering to the stores in town.”

To ensure the safety of all involved, the market encouraged mask wearing, proper social distancing and vendor placement 6 feet apart. With two narrow lanes carved out of the center area taken up by vendor tents, coupled with dozens of visitors eager to witness the sights and smells of the Garden State during the height of the late-morning rush, decorum was tested but not breached.

That’s clearly a boon in Cialella’s mind. With restrictions expected to be further relaxed in the coming months, he’s banking on the fresh air, bustling locale and food to bring back that long-lost sense of normalcy. The soundtrack to the market is also expected to return sometime next month from its traditional locale inside the gazebo. 

“It is a great gathering place for the people in the community and provides a fantastic option to purchase delicious produce throughout the season,” Fisher noted.

The market will be open, rain or shine, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday until Oct. 16. For more information on vendors, sponsors, entertainment and more, visit  https://haddonfieldfarmersmarket.org/.

Former radio broadcaster, hockey writer, Current: main beat reporter for Haddonfield, Cherry Hill and points beyond.
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