Orangetown Explores Effort To Bring Farmers’ Market To Pearl River; Still Asking For Public Comment

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The Town Is In Early-Stage Talks With Operator Of Successful Piermont Farmers’ Market

By Tina Traster

The Town of Orangetown continues to collect feedback on a prospective weekly farmers’ market in Pearl River. To date, response to the survey is robust and the answer is largely “yes, please.”

Farmers’ markets are complicated entities that need seasoned operators, strategic locations, the right mix of offerings, and cooperation from a municipality.

It’s early days in the discussions but Joe Serra, the seasoned operator of the Sunday Piermont Farmers’ Market is in talks with town leaders about bringing a market to Pearl River.

“Pearl River is ripe for a farmers’ market but there is nothing in place right now,” said Serra. “We’re just having exploratory conversations. There are a lot of variables to be considered.”

Pearl River has had farmers markets over the years, but they haven’t stuck. There is no definitive reason for their failure but those who are planning one understand there are elements that make up successful farmers’ markets including location, vendor selection, marketing.

Serra has been in the game for several years – first running an indoor farmers’ market at The Souk in Piermont; later taking over the contract for the outdoor Sunday market. The evolution of that market adds another reason for Piermont to be a destination on Sundays, and the market draws from both Rockland and Westchester counties, New Jersey, even Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Farmers’ markets gain followings; people return regularly for home-grown mushrooms or special sauces or local produce. Robust markets often include music or entertainment or other features that make them destinations.

Rockland County is weak overall on successful markets. The Nyack Farmers’ Market on Thursdays, which is both indoor and outdoor depending on the season, has endured for more than two decades but remains small compared to regional markets. There’s a small Saturday market at the Palisades Community Center. The Town of Clarkstown’s market perished after a few years.

If Pearl River’s market gets off the ground, it would bring the number of markets in Orangetown to four. However, the proposed HNA redevelopment project on the former IBM campus on Route 9W in Palisades, also calls for a farmers’ market, though that project is in flux and the town is underway with a proposal to take that campus through eminent domain.

Over the past several weeks nearly 1,000 town residents answered the town’s brief online survey, which asked a series of questions about a possible farmers’ market in Pearl River. The location would most likely be Central Avenue Field.

Questions included: Do you currently shop at a farmers’ market? If you answered yes to shopping at a farmers’ market, where do you shop?

The survey also asked residents how often they would shop at a farmers’ market, what day of the week and what time of day is most convenient.

“Providing answers to our questions will help gather information and build a farmers market that provides the products and services you desire,” the survey said.

Another question posed was whether people want organic produce.

The Piermont farmers market, along with the Rockland Farm Alliance in New City, are among a few robust markets in Rockland County – ironically a county once populated with farms.

The Piermont market has grown substantially since Serra and Bill Walsh convinced M&T in Piermont to sever its ties with Down To Earth, the company that for 14 years ran the outdoor Piermont Farmer’s Market in the bank’s parking lot. Nearly 1,000 people attend the market in the spring, summer and fall.  Serra said he did not have numbers for the winter market. During Down To Earth’s tenure, the market grew anemic, with around eight weekly vendors and relatively poor attendance, even though Down To Earth runs several relevant markets in the Hudson Valley.

Serra said he’s looking forward to discussions with Orangetown officials but added that there will be many factors to consider including what day of the week a market can be held and vendor availability.