(Tonawanda News (NY) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 06--"Eating local" might sound like the latest foodie buzz word but in North Tonawanda it's been happening since 1908.
Now, as more and more people look to buy produce grown locally rather than harvested hundreds of miles away and shipped to a big box store, it's fueling a resurgence at a Lumber City institution more than a century in the making.
The fact that the North Tonawanda City Market has been in existence for 106 years may speak to its heritage, but it has also emerged as a reason to explore possibly expanding it, according to city officials.
John Long, the market manager for most of the past 11 years, said that patrons are beginning to rediscover the market as well.
With about 7,000 people on any given summer Saturday, Long said attendance numbers have at least doubled over the last three years during the busy season. While that number couldn't be independently verified, the market vendors no longer have enough space, while some interested in setting up shop have to be turned away.
"I have 138 spots and everything is full," he said. "Even in the wintertime on Saturdays there are 30 vendors there."
The council recently poured about $60,000 into a new roof at a market structure used for Parks and Recreation storage, but with eyes now on a possible expansion project. The pavilion where many of the market's wares are housed, has been sandblasted and painted, while Long said he is currently searching for grant opportunities through the city's community development arm for future projects.
Long, who only works part-time doubling as a employee of the school district, said since the city opened up the farmers market to those in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, numbers began to burgeon, though he also attributes the apparent growth to healthier eating and a interest in buying local.
Indeed, farm markets are something of a new trend, with markets opening in several Buffalo neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs. With its market in operation for more than a century, North Tonawanda stands poised to stake a claim as being decidedly ahead of the curve for people looking for the best in locally grown produce and other items.
Niagara County Legislator Rich Andres said the surge in attention at the market has been more than apparent, including an influx of those outside of the Lumber City.
"It's an attraction and probably more so than it has been in a long time," he said. "It's something we want to make sure is recognized as a community treasure. We bring more people in here in a week than other markets could even hope for."
Andres, who previously represented the Second Ward on the city council, said the area around the market also has received recent attention. Last week, Andres organized the use of a county work crew comprised of Niagara County Jail inmates.
"I was getting some complaints about issues on Bryant Street as far as debris and upkeep," he said. "We got creative, using the those who qualified for the work crew."
Second Ward Alderwoman Donna Braun, who lives near the market, said its popularity is obvious just based off a shortage of parking on Saturdays, also projecting that about 50 percent of attendees come from outside the area.
Braun, who started her first term in January, said while she hasn't specifically addressed the possibility of expanding the market, the fact that a broader slice of Western New Yorkers serve as patrons is a good sign.
"People are buying fresh vegetables and want to support local farmers," she said. "It's a great little jewel we have here in the Second Ward."
The market is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. throughout the year.
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