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Ligonier Country Market opening with new special features

| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

The Ligonier Country Market opens at 8 a.m. Saturday. This year's season kicks off with the celebration of a country fair theme.

Westmoreland Fair Queen Hattie Henderson and Derry Township Ag Fair Queen Amanda Wiltrout will be in attendance.

The opening day special feature is a market-wide scarecrow scavenger hunt for children and registration information about upcoming youth activities.

Larry Shew and the Shewstrings band will be performing. The Westmoreland County 4-H square dance group will also perform on opening day.

The special features fulfill several purposes, according to Linda Sinemus, a publicity volunteer with the Ligonier Country Market.

“One is to attract customers to the market who may have never come before. Another is to expose local groups in the community to a larger audience, our way of being a good citizen in the community, helping other organizations to grow and expand. Another is to provide cultural experiences to the community via music, artwork or history,” Simenus said.

The first Ligonier Country Market was held in 1976, when John West of Ligonier, Jeanne Witman of New Florence, Thomas Hughes of Derry and others joined together to form a board of directors to promote the first market, held on the Fourth of July weekend in the Bicentennial year.

It was held at the American Legion barn, now occupied by the Valley Youth Network. There were 12 vendors that first year, selling homemade pies, vegetables and handmade crafts.

By the next year, the market was established as a nonprofit corporation.

Following the market's motto “Make It, Bake It or Grow It,” the vendors continue to offer true farmer's market products. Fresh vegetables and fruits are available all season. Spring lettuce, green onions, asparagus and spinach, grown by local producers, will be the first vegetables of the season.

Vendors will offer perennials and bedding plants to those wanting to get a start on their own flower or vegetable gardens.

Market artisans, woodworkers and craftspeople will display a variety of items to wear including clothing and jewelry as well as household items.

Special features entertainment will continue every Saturday providing a mix of musical styles.

“This year's line up is the best ever,” Sinemus said. “There will be lots of music, the most we have ever had.”

Cooking demonstrations will be held to show how to cook with the produce purchased at the market.

“The newest thing is that we have our own chef in residence. Chef Mark of Chef Mark's Palate in Latrobe will be appearing four times this season to cook up delicious dishes using market produce. We are asking local farmers to donate produce for his demos and will give them recognition for doing so,” said Sinemus.

While the fresh produce, handmade crafts and home-baked goods attract a steady crowd, many come to the market for the social atmosphere. People see neighbors, relatives, old friends from high school as they stroll up and down the aisles of vendor tents. The festive atmosphere provides the opportunity for a morning of entertainment while, at the same time, providing support to local farmers, artisans and businesses.

“This is community-based project for the people of our community,” said special features committee member Lois Manon of Ligonier. “People have access to fresh produce, meat, baked goods as well as being able to sell produce there. And, it attracts people from out of the area. It gives them a destination, a beginning to their Laurel Highlands experience.”

Results of a survey conducted at the market last year, indicated a desire for more food booths and more musical entertainment. According to market manager Angela Iezzi, both have been addressed.

The average amount spent per visit was $21 to $60. Most surveyed said they shopped at the market every weekend. The favorite part of the market, according to the 65 percent of those who took the survey, was the variety offered there week after week.

Following fresh produce and plants, the most popular items purchased last year were the prepared food items.

For more information about vendors and special features, go to ligoniercountrymarket.com.

Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or dbrehun@tribweb.com.

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