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Cranberry farmers market a popular summer destination

| Thursday, July 12, 2012, 11:29 a.m.
John Ligo and Crystal Carlson of Pasture Perfect Beef of Grove City took their products on the road and stopped at Cranberry Township Friday’s Farmers Market. Both families raise their own cattle the natural way — without steroids or hormones. Photo by Dona Dreeland
Aaron Sturges and his daughter, Mariah, pack up fresh cherries and blueberries from their farm in Fombell for customers at Cranberry Township’s Friday Farmers Market. Photo by Dona Dreeland
Isabella Hamilton, 2, of Cranberry samples a blueberry from Prospect Meadow Farm. Photo by Dona Dreeland

It was one of the hottest days of the year, but the entrepreneurs and intrepid customers might have turned it into something juicy with products purchased at the Cranberry Township Farmers Market.Last Friday, there were filets of Pasture Perfect Beef to be grilled and served with mixed greens, beets and a fresh raspberry vinaigrette from Prospect Meadow Farm.Fresh cherries and blueberries from Sturges Orchards would be the sweet ending to this early summer meal."There's always a breeze here," said Aaron Sturges, who coordinates the vendors who meet here from June through the end of October. There is no charge for participating; all a marketer needs is liability insurance. With temperatures in the '90s that day, there was lots of room for vehicles and lots more customers who wanted to treat themselves to the showcase of locally grown food in the Cranberry Municipal Parking from 3:30 to 6 p.m.The Saturday farmers market is held at Cranberry's Route 19 fire station from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.As the harvests come in, Sturges expects more participants."We usually have 12 to 14 vendors," he said."It fluctuates and depends on the availability of crops."Gretchen Haburjak represented Mary Finke, her sister and owner of Prospect Meadow Farm, at the market. Savanna Romans, her niece, also joined her under the vendor's tent."My sister has four or five acres and loves to garden," Haburjak said.Her fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown without chemicals.In weeks to come, they also will bring their heirloom tomato varieties."The messy, delicious ones," Haburjak said. "We bought the house we grew up in, and I remember eating tomatoes with grandma there."Everyone has a "When tomatoes used to taste good story."Melanie Stacy, from Economy Borough, liked what she saw when she visited the market for the first time.There was rhubarb, beets, cucumbers and sunny-shaped squashes to choose from. Prospect Meadow Farm also keeps its own bees and jars its own honey."What they have is so nice," said Winkie Ilic, from Seven Fields."It's the first time I came, but I kept seeing signs. It's all so reasonably priced."A few miles northwest of the Prospect farm is the home of Pasture Perfect Beef in Grove City.The partnership between John and Judy Ligo of LiTerra Farm and Russ and Crystal Carlson of The Back Forty Farm is less than a year old, but the families' connection brings together 1,200 acres for their new enterprise and years of experience in raising cattle. The Ligos have kept dairy cattle for 20 years.Pasture Perfect steers are corn fed after a winter of eating hay. After slaughter, which is done once a month, the beef is dry-aged from 14 to 21 days, which makes the meat more tender and flavorful, Ligo said.The meat is hung in a controlled environment cooler, so the natural juices can be distributed, explained Crystal Carlson.No growth hormones, steroids or antibiotics are used on the animals.Commercial packers use the hormones and steroids "to finish the animal faster," Carlson said.Her animals age naturally, gaining weight out in the fields. The pastures where they spend their days are green and wide with plenty of room for the 700 to 800 head."Cows are normal grazers," Carlson said."Raising cows in a pasture is healthier for the cow and healthier for us to consume."The cost of Pasture Perfect Beef is slightly higher, but that's because it takes their steers longer to grow."We feed them the whole stalk of corn," Carlson said. This, too, adds to the flavor and tenderness of the beef."It gives our beef that old-fashioned taste."New to the farm, but not new to the love of fresh air and warm soil, Aaron Sturges, 47, bought his first 20 acres in Fombell, Pa., in 1989. He added 45 more acres in 1997."I wanted a job that was outside," he said.He majored in horticulture from Penn State and learned more about the inner workings of farming as general manager of Treesdale Farms. Today, he, his son, Nathan, 18, and daughter, Mariah, 14, are in charge of Sturges Orchards operationsFruits, apples and peaches are his main commodity, he said, although he puts in crops of various vegetables — including beans, eggplant, turnips, tomatoes and zucchini. His last harvest every year is collard greens.Recently, he has added some exotic plants to his garden — all from the suggestions of farmers market customers. Those from the Asian and Indian cultures enjoy bitter gourd and Chinese okra. This year, he has devoted a half-acre to these foods, in hopes that area cooks will use his products in ethnic recipes."Every day is different," he explained. "It's not work to me."The family participates in about 13 farmers markets each week, including those at the Fombell farm. Sturges cares for the planting, watering and harvesting of crops in his extra hours. This passion for farming seems to have passed on to his son, who has raised Thanksgiving turkeys since he was 7 years old. The teen hopes to major in agriculture at Penn State University."There are benefits I never saw to farming," Sturges said. "I get to be with my kids every day. A lot of dads don't get to do that. It's a blessing."Vendors interested in setting up a tent each Friday in Cranberry can call Gretchen Moran at 724-776-4806, Ext. 1103, at the municipal building.

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