By April Smyth
For 44 years now, Ligonier Country Market has been a fixture in Westmoreland County. Located on the Loyalhanna Watershed Farm at the corner of Old Route 30 and Springer Road, The Market operates Saturdays from 8AM to 12PM from May 18 to September 28, rain or shine. It has 130 vendors each week (with a roster of 220 for the season). They also feature a Christmas Market annually on Small Business Saturday from 9AM to 1PM.
Beginning in 1976 at the bicentennial celebration as a special event, The Market was so well received that it became a full-time seasonal affair the following year. A board of directors was established and the bylaws were created, as the market was set up as a non-profit entity. Notably, the purpose of the market was to “encourage area residents and visitors to appreciate and purchase locally handcrafted articles and locally grown produce in season.” According to board member Linda Sinemus, “The Ligonier Country Market has grown into the largest open-air farmers market in Western Pennsylvania that is a producer-only market.”
As The Market increased in size and more vendors joined, it relocated several times to adapt to its constant growth. In addition to changes in location, staff members were also needed to manage the operation and the scope of The Market. Currently, Cari Frei serves as the first-ever Executive Director (since 2016) of the Ligonier Country Market, “with parking attendants, two site operation coordinators, two Mascots, Daisy Mae and Lily Lavender, which help her keep everything in order,” states Sinemus.
Sustainability, conservation, and local vitality are of the utmost importance to everyone involved with The Market. What makes the Ligonier Country Market so special is their strict adherence to their motto of “Make It – Bake It – Grow It,” which applies to all vendors at the market and is a non-negotiable requirement. Cari Frei reports, “There is a wait list for certain types of vendors because of our size and customer foot traffic.” The Market attracts between 3,000 to 4,000 patrons per week in a four-hour period!
Frei says that watching a vendor attend The Market for the first time is enjoyable because they are nervous and don’t know what to expect. Observing the vendor’s eyes light up when they realize the sheer magnitude of the crowd The Market draws is very rewarding to watch. “By the time they are in their second and third year, I witness the booth develop from a novice vendor to someone honing in on their craft and incorporating the visual elements needed to entice customers to enter their booth,” Frei explains.
There are many products offered by vendors at Ligonier Country Market. Products include fresh produce, flowers, farm-fresh eggs, beef, and poultry along with cheese, specialty breads, baked goods, honey and maple syrup. Countless handmade crafts are also offered. You can even get freshly brewed coffee and ready to eat foods such as breakfast sandwiches, pierogies, hamburgers, grilled pizza, and more if you’ve brought your appetite along. Buying local never tasted so good!
The Market, like anything else, is not without its challenges. The mud and the parking can be tricky at times, as the field is located on a wetland and preserving its integrity is critical. For that reason, it is often necessary to close some of the parking areas. Frei declares, “We are lucky to have the Loyalhanna Watershed Association as our landlords and for the Valley Youth Network allowing us to have customers park in their lots.”
As The Market continued to evolve it became necessary to appeal to younger consumers who bring their children with them. Four years ago, Market Sprouts, a free program that offers story time for children was established. At that time, 6 to 10 kids per day attended. On May 25, 2019, there were 101 children who came to participate! Frei affirms, “Our goal is to teach the children at a young age to shop local and know where your food comes from. The Market Sprouts program offers Market-themed crafts, child-sized picnic tables and games.”
Two local students, Katie Andrews (Daisy Mae), 14, Ligonier Valley High School and Addison Gray (Lily Lavender), 11, Baggley Elementary, run the program. All activities are free of charge.
Ligonier Country Market has many special features throughout the season including music, art, and children’s garden planting, and several other fun and educational activities. On August 10, 2019, a celebration of National Farmers Market Week will include guest appearances by the PA Agriculture Fair Queen, the Westmoreland County Fair Queen, and elected officials. Amy Clarke (vendor) wrote the Ligonier Country Market theme song and the celebration will be a joyous time for everyone to sing it together. Additionally, butterflies (painted ladies and monarchs) will be released in honor of the event.
Anyone interested in donating to offset the expenses of the event may sponsor butterflies by mailing a check to Ligonier Country Market, P.O. Box 877, Ligonier, PA 15658. Stop by the Market Sprouts to add to the donation jar.
Later that evening, the Annual Harvest Dinner, co-sponsored by the Ligonier Country Market and the Loyalhanna Watershed Association will be held at 6PM. All food is made by a vendor and donations are taken from other vendors as door prizes, appetizers, and desserts. Proceeds from the event support Loyalhanna Watershed Association field trips. No school is ever charged to come to the facility.
For more information on The Market’s rich history, the vendors, special features, the Christmas Market, or how to become a vendor, visit www.ligoniercountrymarket.com. You can also visit their page on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Ligonier Country Market
6 Andi Lane, Ligonier, PA 15658
(At the cross of Old Route 30 and Springer Lane)