Allentown Farmer's Market

By Melanie Gold

If you ask locals which institutions make the Lehigh Valley a great place to live and do business, they’ll tell you the Allentown Fairgrounds Farmers Market is a regional jewel in the crown. Located at the Allentown Fairgrounds at 17th and Chew streets, the Farmers Market is open Thursday through Saturday with hours varying from roughly 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The market is open year-round, except during the Great Allentown Fair.

For 57 years, the Fairgrounds Farmers Market has provided a venue for residents to find fresh local produce and for farmers to sell direct to consumers. For many, the pleasure of buying from a farmers’ market is in meeting food producers face to face, learning about their growing practices and supporting local, seasonal agriculture.

Guy Stanton, 40, a Fairgrounds Farmers Market representative, knows why this place is special. “[The Farmers Market] is unique,” he says. “It’s been around for so long and is basically the same as when it started. Everything here is fresh, healthy, homegrown or homemade, and it helps the local economy.”

Stanton should know. When he was a child growing up in Allentown, choices were somewhat limited—it was either the A&P, the farmer’s market or picking produce off the back of a farmer’s pickup truck. He fondly remembers the joy of the Mink’s Candies store, the disappointment of not appeasing his sweet tooth and the trademark miniature train that still chugs around the stand’s perimeter.

More than 60 vendors offer a myriad of goods literally from soup to nuts, including locally produced foods, domestically shipped products and imported items. Find Amish pastries baked on the premises, cheeses from around the world and meat purveyors offering free-range chickens, lamb chops and buffalo. There’s a Polish deli, a Southern kitchen and local wine, teas and more.

“People love the personal service,” says Dan Wuchter, owner of the Market and a former poultry farmer.

“We’ve adapted to stay open year-round—so we have things shipped in from warmer climates during the winter—but it’s still local farmers, chefs and butchers who prepare the food,” says Stanton. Themed events such as the periodic “Taste of the Market” encourage the public to sample vendors’ products and perhaps try something new, such as falafel at Foods of the Mediterranean or homemade scrapple from Baringer’s Meats, a fourth-generation meat market.

The market is celebrating its anniversary with several 1950s-themed events, including rollbacks on certain items to 1950s pricing. According to Wuchter, who has been the proprietor since 1991, the market opened in July 1953 under the Allentown Fair grandstand.

For about seven years the Bath-based Kiffle Kitchen Bakery has operated a booth at the Allentown Fairgrounds Farmers Market. The family-owned bakery sells handmade baked goods such as cookies, coffee cakes and sticky buns and specializes in regional favorites, like hand-rolled Hungarian kiffles, shoofly pie and nut rolls. To celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary, Market visitors should look for 25 percent discounts later this year and a cupcake party with free samples.

Owner Lee Kociolek says the Market’s mission is similar to hers— to offer a quality product. Everything is made from scratch and baking is done daily, with products made to order. Hand-rolled and hand-cut pastry doughs and crusts, and ingredients such as real butter, vanilla extract, freshly ground walnuts and Dutch-processed cocoa are used.

“Without a good product,” she says, “you might get people to come, but they don’t come back.”

Kociolek says her staff loves working the Farmers Market stand because there is a great reward in face-to-face interaction with the public. She says it has to do with a sense of community.

“We’ve all got the same intent: Keep the Market alive.”

Melanie Gold is a freelance writer and book editor who shares a backyard garden with her neighbors and dreams of hobby poultry farming.

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