When visitors walk over to Kennedy Park in Asbury Park on a Sunday afternoon during the summer, they’ll find a bustling and vibrant scene at the Asbury Fresh Farmer’s Market. The bike racks are crowded with beach cruisers ready to take home a fresh market haul. The sound of live music floats through the warm air, and rows of vendors selling homegrown fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and other artisan goods line the park. Arguably the best part of the market is the stand featuring crates of fuzzy kittens, and occasionally sweet pups, which are available for adoption. Most of the time, they find their forever homes with market shoppers.
All of these scenes are a normal Sunday for Asbury Fresh, which began in the spring of 2012 and quickly grew into a year-round business in the form of winter markets for holiday shopping, harvest festivals, and a second farmer’s market in the neighboring shore town of Bradley Beach. Born from a desire to bring the best of New Jersey’s fresh and organic foods to nearby communities, the organization has forged a lasting connection between farmers and local consumers. On how it all came about, founder Bret Morgan laughs when recalling how simple the startup process was, stating, “I had seen other markets that I really liked […], so I sent an email to the city and said hey ‘I want to start a farmer’s market’ and they said, ‘Sure.’” Morgan continues, “the city was just super supportive of us.”
After three seasons, the market grew from a handful of vendors to 60 regular attendees who sell their goods, plus there is a waitlist for future vendors to claim their spot. Since adding a highly curated roster of artisans and makers of fine goods, it has become an even more diverse and exciting place to shop.
Now in their seventh season, Asbury Fresh is a fixture in town and embodies the creative, hardworking and entrepreneurial spirit of Asbury Park. “I think that’s a big part of the reason why people come to the market—because they can connect with a farmer and that farm,” says Morgan about the consumer’s relationships with the farms and its growers. There was also an unexpected relationship that grew out of the market: “A lot of the farms have set up partnerships with restaurants in town, and you will see some chefs coming around in the last 30 or 40 minutes buying up whatever is leftover for the day and turning it into a special at the restaurant.” Morgan continues, “It’s really cool how there is a cycle […]. It isn’t even something that we consciously tried to do, but by being there, it kinda happened.”
Besides giving farmers, growers and makers a place to sell their products, the Asbury Fresh market has also seen one-man or one-woman operations grow into thriving businesses with a full staff and brick-and-mortar storefronts. “When I think of businesses like that, it’s just incredible,” said Morgan, who has also become a big supporter of those same businesses.
So, with all of this success, what’s next for the organization? “We really want to make it more like an educational destination for people to come out and shop, but you can also come out and get other experiences, too.” In addition to a new location in Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey, the Asbury Fresh team has more projects on the horizon that, as Morgan says, are secret for now but will soon be announced in the coming months.
Most importantly, what Morgan wants people to know about Asbury Fresh is that it’s all about the people and community at large. “It’s always good to let people know how much love we put into it,” he says, “we are very open to feedback and suggestions and generally just want to create the best possible thing for people. We deeply care about that at our core.”