Philadelphia, PA – When driving through the suburbs or certain urban neighborhoods on a Saturday morning it’s not unusual to see community co-ops, flea markets and Farmer’s Markets. Gail Harris a long-time resident of Lawnside New Jersey, a historic mostly African-American town decided Lawnside needed a Farmer’s Market. Many of the surrounding communities and towns had established Farmer’s Markets but Lawnside did not. So, in 2020 Gail Harris asked MaryAnn Wardlow the town’s mayor, why not? The mayor’s response was no one ever asked to start one.
Gail Harris secured the required permits and set out to promote an open air Farmer’s Market in the town. “I’ve been a resident here in Lawnside fro twenty years and I wanted to bring an African-American Farmer’s Market to our community, to educate the people and also bring farm fresh food from farmers that are within the community into our borough. This was supposed to have happened last year but unfortunately due to COVID the mayor had to shut it down. The mayor came back to me in December of 2020 and asked me if I still had the idea of bringing a farmer’s market to the community, I said yes I do and she said ‘please make it happen.’”
Mrs. Harris immediately got to work securing the needed permits and approvals and on May 1, 2021 they held their grand opening in the parking lot of the borough’s park. The weather the first two weeks wasn’t that great but Mrs. Harris believes once the weather becomes more seasonable more vendors, retailers and shoppers will come. “I have the support of the mayor and the support of the borough council and they are backing me so this is what we are going to do. We will be here from May 1st through October 2nd every Saturday rain or shine, the vendors will increase I already have commitments for future dates, the entertainers will increase, the education around fresh produce and food for our community will definitely be here, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
A farmer’s market usually features locally or regionally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, the Lawnside Farmer’s Market has their own local organic food growers who used to participate in the neighboring towns’ flea markets and famers market but now participates with Mrs. Harris and the Lawnside Farmer’s Market. “We have a young lady here, (Dr.) Cynthia Hall she’s from Free Haven Farms she has several acres of farmland and she farms every year. She used to be one of the vendors at the Haddonfield Farmer’s Market, when she found out I was trying to create that here in Lawnside she started bringing her produce and vegetables to Lawnside.”
In addition to creating the only African-American farmers’ market in the South Jersey area, Gail Harris wants to spark a rebirth and renaissance in Lawnside. “Lawnside has so much African-American history from the Underground Railroad, the post office, churches and cemeteries; this was once farm land so now I want to bring it (the history) to light, this is something that has been overlooked”, she shared.
There is a $35 fee to vend or to set up a table at the Farmer’s Market. You can select as many Saturdays as you want, the fee has to be paid no later than the Friday prior to the Saturday you select. Applicants also have to fill secure a mercantile license from the Borough of Lawnside. The borough office is open Monday through Thursday for the mercantile incenses.
Mrs. Harris’ biggest challenge has been promoting the weekly event. They had banners across Warwick Road the main thoroughfare but forty-five mile an hour wind blew them down during a storm. “We have been placing flyers on people’s property, in the churches; and children have been taking flyers home from school.” She’s been on Patty Jackson’s radio program; Gail Harris is doing everything she can to promote the farmer’s market. Their Facebook page is live as of Monday May 10th. “Our challenge is to make sure the word continually gets out. The borough is going to put the banners up next week so people can see them as they drive through town. The thing I love abut today and our grand opening is we are getting a mixture of customers, all kinds of folks are coming. A lot of people have told me they’ve gotten the word, they know about us and we are growing.”
The Lawnside Farmers’ Market is open Saturday 9-2 from May 1st through October 2nd at the Lawnside Park parking lot on E. Charleston Avenue across the street from the Wayne Bryant Community Center. For more information call Gail Harris at 1 (800) 614-6085 or (215) 300-3345.
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