Ludovic Andre and Chris Cirkus outside

Ludovic Andre, left, is taking over from Chris Cirkus as manager of the Trenton Farmers Market.

If you’ve never been to the Trenton Farmers Market, you don’t know what a farmers market can be.

We welcome the proliferation of the markets dotting our area that appear in parking lots, plazas, and vacant lots during the growing season and bring the bounty of the Garden State close to our doorsteps. The Trenton Farmers Market is that, and so much more.

A brief look back illustrates one significant difference, a history dating back to 1939 according to the market website, when a group of farmers who had been coming by horse and carriage to Trenton to sell their produce near the Trenton Makes bridge since the early 1900s needed to make way for the construction of Route 29. The farmers formed the Trenton Market Growers Cooperative Association and purchased property on Spruce Street.

Over the next nine years, three market buildings were moved into place, and eventually what began with three parallel buildings became the current cross shape by cutting the center building in half and affixing it to the eastern building. Outdoor market stalls evolved into an indoor facility with overhead doors that give the market its distinctive bringing-the-outdoors-indoors feel.

It’s the co-op structure of the market that makes it, and the role of its manager, a bit different from other pop-up type markets in the area, explains Chris Cirkus, a resident of West Windsor who ended her three-year tenure as manager on January 22. “The Trenton Farmers Market (TFM) is a farmer cooperative,” she says. “Seven farms are members of the co-op, and the Trenton Market Growers Cooperative owns the market, and several farmers serve as board members.”

Remarkably, Cirkus is only the fifth person who has filled the role of market manager over its long history, following the tenure of Marcia and Jack Ball. She is moving on to become regional food specialist with Zone 7, a New Jersey-based, local farm fresh food distributor.

“Zone 7 has built a reputation as experts in local food,” Cirkus says. “The owner, Mikey Azzara, started the Lawrenceville Farmers Market years ago, he’s a well-respected local foods person. I feel I have accomplished what I set out to do here, it’s a logical segue.” Cirkus notes that she will remain as manager of the West Windsor Community Farmers Market (WWCFM), a position she has held going on 12 years of that market’s 19-year existence.

“Supporting farmers and small entrepreneurial makers who feature local products in their own offerings is what I do,” she says. “It’s been a wonderful crossover yet very different market experience being involved in both. The two markets share a few farms and vendors, and I was strategic in the crossover to Trenton.”

She offers Hillsborough-based Zell’s Farm as an example of how the crossover to Trenton has helped bring new life, energy, and diversity to the market. “They (Zell’s) had approached me for the West Windsor Market, and we had two mushroom growers there already,” she says. “I was early in my management of the Trenton market and had just completed a survey of the customers to find out what they were looking for and what they felt was missing from the diversity of already offered products.

“Zell’s Farm grows mushrooms in Hillsborough and came in to Trenton for a trial year before being invited to join the cooperative. They have since expanded their offerings. We’re working on a relationship with them for the upcoming summer WWCFM season.”

Bringing in vendors like Zell’s farm was part of a three-year effort to overcome Cirkus’ first up-close impression of the market when she began as manager. “Let’s just say the market was in need of some love,” she says. “It was a little darker, a bit dreary, kind of empty. It needed a little ‘Oomph!’ And my strength is that ‘Oomph!’ and community building, and I felt that the community wasn’t as well represented as it could be. I felt that I could bring that to this space.”

Cirkus notes that, compared with the WWCFM, her stint as manager of the TFM presented additional challenges. “This market is unique, in that it’s a farmer co-operative, so farmers are members of the cooperative, and the cooperative owns the market,” she explains. “So even though it’s a private business, it has a different hierarchy than what most people think of when they think of a farmers market.

“You’ve got farmers who are there year-round, some close around Thanksgiving, others close at Christmas time, so there’s a whole dynamic to the structure of the market that was the biggest learning curve for me. Part of the position is being a property manager, and I was surprised to discover that managing the acreage and the buildings was as big a piece of work as it turned out to be.”

How many vendors are currently part of the market? “We have 19 tenants,” Cirkus says, including seven farmers, a number of weekend rentals, and “there are about 16 tables that we call ‘dailies,’ so they’re not under lease. It’s a great space for an entrepreneur to sell their products and build a following.”

Who’s the longest market tenant? “I think that’s Pulaski Meats,” she says. “Run by different iterations of the family for nearly 50 years, it’s an institution here.”

And the most recent? “The newest is Out of Step,” she says. “Joe (Kuzemka) and Megan (Callahan Singletary) just opened at the end of November, and they’re such an amazing asset to the market. They represent different makers and artisans, what is exactly what I’ve done with all these daily tables.”

“When I first came in a lot of those tables were vacant,” Cirkus adds. “It was winter, when it’s always a little slower, but I wanted more makers in the market, food, artists, jewelry makers, crafters, knitters — things that represent a broad cross-section. Joe and Megan do that in their store, I thought it might compete, but it actually complements the daily vendors.”

Ironically, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic did not deter the operation of the market, Cirkus says. “When the governor’s first executive order came out declaring that farmers markets and grocery stores were deemed essential, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to the market at the time, because I was in the middle of this rebuilding and re-branding and resurgence, and then the pandemic hit the following March.

“We placed a hand-washing station in the middle of the market, and we keep the common area as clean as we can,” she continues. “It does prove to be challenging with some of the tenants because everyone has their own personal beliefs. We turn towards the municipal and state health departments for their guidance as to what the next iteration will be. I have seen more shoppers masking up lately.”

Note: Cirkus says that the distinctive new Trenton Farmers Market logo, a key visual element of her re-branding effort, was designed by her husband, Mikel Cirkus, a noted designer, photographer, illustrator, and writer.

“The evolution of the Trenton market has been a continuing process for a long time,” notes Gary Mount, president of the Trenton Market Growers Cooperative and a principal of Terhune Orchards in Lawrenceville. “There have been managers for the market ever since it started. Each one is different, and different for their times. Managers Jack and Marcia Ball kept the market going when all the other markets were falling by the wayside.

“Chris brought new ideas and made it a more inclusive place and filled the market with activity, and that was what was needed,” Mount continues. “We’re very grateful to Chris, she’s accomplished a lot in her three years here. We wish her well in the future.”

Cirkus is now passing the baton to her successor, Hamilton resident Ludovic Andre.

Andre notes that the seeds of his lifelong interest in urban agriculture were planted in childhood, when he developed a connection to his father’s family garden. “That’s where the love started,” he says. “And I’ve been coming to the market since I was a kid.”

During a stint at Kingsbury's Twin Towers in Trenton, Andre says that he started a community garden there, leading to his introduction to Isles, the Trenton-based community development and environmental organization as their urban agriculture coordinator and educator. “I discovered that I had some strengths working with youth, helping them to view their relationship with food differently,” he says.

“I then moved on to manage Capital City Farm (in Trenton) for a time, which was a lot of fun,” he continues. “We produced over 5,000 pounds of food in one season there. That was during COVID, when a lot of people needed a safe space where they and their children could be outdoors and connect with nature.”

What’s Andre’s vision for the market going forward? “I think that what Chris has accomplished speaks wonders,” he says. “I see my challenge is to continue the legacy and build on the diversity that’s here. There’s a unique charm about this place, and if I can continue to uphold that the market will continue to be in good hands.”

“I feel I was the right person to get the market happier, shinier, and more diverse and more engaged, and I believe Ludovic is the right person to take the market operationally and culturally to the future,” Cirkus says.

“Ludovic’s a great guy” Gary Mount says. “There a lot of good things about Trenton, and the farmers market is one of the jewels of Trenton. We’re hopeful that Ludovic will carry it even further into the future. There are so many opportunities, and he seems poised to take advantage of them.”

Trenton Farmers Market, 960 Spruce Street, Lawrence. Thursdays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Since hours and days of individual vendors are subject to change, please visit the website’s vendor page before visiting. 609-695-2998 or thetrentonfarmersmarket.com.

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