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Sewickley farm market builds on sense of community

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
randy jarosz
Clifford Bob of Sewickley (right) passes some cucumbers he found to Mat King of Dillner Farms in Gibsonia on June 28 at the Sewickley Farmers Market in the parking lot of St. James Catholic Church.

Lynn and Deron Tatala sat on a curb at the farm market at St. James Catholic Church in Sewickley, enjoying a lunch of hot Greek foods from the Little Athens Catering stand.

The Moon couple had been meaning to stop by the market for years and recently decided to venture over with their 4- and 7-year-old children after swimming lessons at the Sewickley Valley YMCA.

“It was fabulous,” Lynn Tatala said. “It was really great.”

That's the general impression visitors and vendors have about the farm market, which marks its 10th growing season this year, said Rob Jancart, deacon at St. James, who runs the market in the parish parking lot between Broad and Walnut streets.

Since starting with 10 vendors in 2005, the market has sprouted into a much larger, diverse marketplace.

Vendors sell seasonal fruits and vegetables, flowers and shrubs, cheeses and wines, mushrooms, breads, pastries, oils, condiments, wool and llama fur, ethnic foods such as pierogies and pasta, and meats such as premium-aged beef and salmon.

“It is a farmers' and early merchant market — the ones that have the harvest that they are trying to make,” Jancart said.

Regardless of the weather, the market runs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., starting the first weekend in April and not ending until the last Saturday before Thanksgiving.

One of the longtime vendors has been Dillner Family Farm, where shoppers browse peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, sweet peas, blueberries and sugar snap peas, among other produce.

What you'll find depends on what's in season, said Jane Dillner, who operates the West Deer farm with her husband and four children.

Making a choice could be the hardest part. Dillner said the stand sells more than 110 varieties, including fruits, vegetables, herbs and fresh brown eggs.

“It's a Saturday morning. People are looking for fresh produce for the weekend,” Dillner said.

Jancart said the market started as an outreach of St. James to the public as a way to build on the notion of community. He said he thinks the market has become popular over the years because of accessibility — walkable to many residents and not far off of Route 65.

Deron Tatala said he likes knowing the vendors and the goods are locally sourced.

“I like to support the little guy,” he said.

For Betty Starn's Bakery, another longtime vendor, it's the loyal customers who keep Betty and Bill Starn coming back.

“We've watched the kids grow up. It's just amazing,” said Shirene Starn, whose mother, Betty, makes the variety of homemade sweet breads, pies, strudel, turnovers, doughnuts and other pastries, as well as roasted vegetable flatbreads, and pepperoni and cheese rolls.

If a child comes around, Betty Starn of Patterson Heights most likely will offer a homemade doughnut.

Starn has been asked to make pastries for special occasions, such as weddings and baby showers.

“They call, they touch base with us over the winter, so it's like family,” she said.

Barb Levosky of Leet has been coming to the farm market for years, and stopped in for greens. She plans to return for tomatoes and corn.

“It's nice that they have it. I like the fact that you can get produce from local farmers,” she said.

Visitors to the market often run into people they know. Sometimes, they congregate over lunch in wicker chairs on the nearby lawn. Others stop for quick chats between browsing.

“It's a good thing for the community of Sewickley to have it,” Sewickley resident Robert Glenn said.

One thing vendor and manager of the Pittsburgh-based Mediterra Bakehouse Andrea Sustarsic said she likes most is the strong sense of community.

“All of the farmers know each other and we like to swap stuff,” said Sustarsic, who sells artisan breads and pastries.

Sustarsic has been coming for five years and knows her customers well, too, she said.

Whether it's chocolate croissants, sourdough bread, a rosemary olive oil baguette, or something else, she remembers what her regulars want when they approach her booth.

“That's another thing I love about the market is having things memorized for people, just knowing what people like,” she said. “You get a great clientele.”

Larissa Dudkiewicz is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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