Producer of the Week: Southern Berks Bee Keepers

This week, we welcome Southern Berks Bee Keepers back to the market. You’ll want to pay them a visit and pick up a jar of their natural honey.

Here’s why…

A research study released in September of this year in the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences highlighted the significant health values of natural honey. In particular, the study’s authors cited the therapeutic use of natural honey to enhance dental health, treat eye disorders, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The researchers also write about “honey as a natural cancer ‘vaccine’” based on its anti-inflammatory properties and high antioxidant qualities.

Adults aren’t the only ones who can benefit from natural honey’s preventative effects and healing abilities. The authors of the study also acknowledge the health benefits of natural honey on children. They state, “Some studies have shown that honey-nourished infants have improved memory and enhanced growth, as well as being less anxious and showing better performance as they grow.”

So, while you may have only considered natural honey a wonderful sweetener for your tea, think again. It’s a valuable complementary and alternative medicine for a wide number of health concerns.

* Ajibola, A. Novel insights into the health importance of natural honey. Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences. September 2015; 22(5): 7-22. Available from Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA.

Producer of the Week: Aunt Mamie’s Italian Specialties

Aunt Mamie knew more than a thing or two about making gnocchi, ravioli, fettuccini, and spaghetti. Despite being paralyzed on one side of her body from a stroke, she was an expert at using her rolling pin to make homemade pasta. Mamie is Mike Vaccaro’s late mother who lovingly passed her authentic Italian recipes and pasta-making talents along to her son and daughter-in-law, Theresa.

“My mother showed my wife how to make pasta using her recipes,” Mike said. “She taught her how to cook gnocchi, meatballs, and sauce.”

Mike and Theresa are owners of Aunt Mamie’s Italian Specialities. They began their business two years ago in August 2013. Within this time span, they have expanded the distribution of their products from local farmers markets to Whole Foods Stores in Pennsylvania (Devon, Glen Mills, Jenkintown), New Jersey (Cherry Hill), and Delaware.

“Our goal is to grow the business slowly,” Mike said. “We do everything by hand. There’s no mass production. Every gnocchi is made by hand, one at a time.”

Mike remembers growing up and using a fork to make groves in the gnocchi. This fork has now been replaced by a 3×5 gnocchi board, but the process of hand-making them has not changed.

“Our customers love our all natural products made without any preservatives,” Mike said. Discerning customers also love the authentic good taste of Aunt Mamie’s pastas. Mike gave the example of one customer who purchased his gnocchi and said if she liked it, she would return to the market and give him a hug and a kiss. Three weeks later, she did just that.

“I really love having people taste our pastas and sauce and like it,” Mike said. “I love it when they come back for more.”

And patrons do come back. They return for Aunt Mamie’s ricotta gnocchi, sweet potato gnocchi, and pumpkin ravioli. Here at the UM Farmers Market, Mike said customers really like his fettuccini.

Mike and Theresa enjoy being a producer at the UM Farmers Market. “It’s well set up and staffed by volunteers. Everyone from Lydia on down is friendly and so willing to help,” Mike said. “The patrons are friendly, too. It’s a great atmosphere.”

Stop by Aunt Mamie’s booth this weekend to purchase their handmade pastas. Once you try them, there’s a good chance you’ll be back to give Mike and Theresa a hug and kiss, too.

Producer of the Week: Pure Scents Candle Company

Margaret Mace talks to a customer about her candles at the market. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

Margaret Mace talks to a customer about her candles at the market. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

When is less actually more? The answer is when it comes to candle making. Margaret Mace’s 100% soy wax candles are tremendously popular among customers for what they don’t contain – namely, phthalates, dyes, and UV stabilizers. Less of these things means a more natural product.

“My products are naturally scented and burn clean,” said Margaret, owner of Pure Scents Candle Company in West Chester, Pa. “Because I use soy wax and natural fragrance oils, they do not emit carbon or creosote in your home. The fragrance will not bother people who suffer from allergies, asthma or who get headaches from scent.”

Margaret didn’t grow up expecting to be a candle maker. Instead, she worked for 25 years in finance before looking to make a change. “I bought Pure Scents in 2007 from a woman who started it in her kitchen,” Margaret said. “I was a huge fan of the product. When I heard it was for sale, I bought it!”

It was then that Margaret learned about candle making and operating a candle business – combining both her creativity and her finance savvy.

“My favorite part of Pure Scents is actually making the candles,” Margaret shared. “It’s something I do alone in order to concentrate on the process, and it’s therapeutic for me to stir and pour while getting some great aromatherapy.”

As Margaret learned more about candle making, she began to use more natural ingredients in her products. “My customers love the natural look of the candles because they are not dyed,” Margaret said. “They love the way the candles scent their houses so naturally, and that they burn for a very long time.”

Customers also enjoy Margaret’s unique scent combinations and funny candle names. Names like “The Elves are Drunk…Again” draw customers to Margaret’s booth at the UM Farmers Market and entice them to take a deep sniff.

Margaret feels it’s important to use only American-made supplies in her candle making process. “It’s not easy,” she said, “but I am proud to offer a product made in America, while supporting American manufacturing.”

Margaret’s 9 oz. glass tumbler candles are made from a Libby highball glass. She tells customers that once they finish burning their candles, they can wash the tumbler out in hot soapy water and run it through the dishwasher. Afterwards, they can use it as a drinking glass.

For Margaret, the candle making business keeps her busy. “Every part of the business is done by me. If I’m not selling, I’m pouring, demoing, marketing, communicating, pitching my product to wholesale accounts, paying bills, responding to e-mails, and more,” she said. It’s not often that Margaret has the time to hand deliver her candles to customers, though many might expect her to do so because of her high-quality customer service.

Margaret also knows that price increases can be difficult for customers to understand; however, it’s a requirement for her to stay in business. “My candles are still priced less at farmers markets than at retail stores because it’s my way of supporting markets,” Margaret said. “My customers know that they can get a great deal on my candles by coming to the markets I participate in. When I finish doing markets for the season, they can find my candles at several great retail locations.”

Since Opening Day at the UM Farmers Market, Margaret has been a big part of our Upper Merion community and our family of producers. “I have had the pleasure of getting to know our great customer base. They are friendly and informed – they read the newsletter! They are a very loyal group of shoppers,” she said.

Margaret also gives two thumbs up to the UMFM volunteers, many of whom have been with the market since Opening Day. The live music and picnic tables are a plus, too, according to Margaret. “They encourage neighbors to sit and chat over coffee. This helps build community in a positive way,” she said.

Customers can see the vast number of candle scents available on Margaret’s website. Because she has limited space at the market, she brings only the most popular items at the best value. Margaret’s 6 oz. tins and 9 oz. glass tumblers are fan favorites. “The glass candles are the best value,” Margaret stated. “They sell in stores for over $20, but I sell them for $15 each or two for $25 at markets. You can’t beat that value!”

PRODUCER SPECIAL: This Saturday, Margaret is bringing a new product – wax tarts – to the market. Stop by to receive a free wax tart pack with any purchase of $20. Also, ask Margaret to tell you about her new holiday scents!

Producer of the Week: Cucina Verde

Cucina Verde's Latin American Curtido kraut. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

Cucina Verde’s Latin American Curtido kraut. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression “Go with your gut.” Turns out, that’s great advice. Your gut is integrally tied to your health and well-being.

Annmarie Cantrell, owner of Cucina Verde, found this fact out for herself several years ago. “I was in my late 20’s and was experiencing health challenges when someone told me about the connection between your gut and immunity,” said Annmarie.

At that time, Annmarie was an early childhood special education teacher who worked with children with autism. In this role, she began to notice the reactions the children had to certain foods. She, herself, was experiencing similar food reactions.

This realization prompted Annmarie to study food reactions and possible biomedical interventions. Her research revealed to her the power of food to a person’s physical and emotional health.

Annmarie left teaching and started Cucina Verde eight years ago. She was preparing foods for clients, teaching them about food allergies, and consulting with them about good foods to cook.

“In 2001, I attended a cultured foods program and went through a process of gut healing,” Annmarie shared. The program introduced her to Donna Gates’ Body Ecology Diet where fermented foods are a mainstay. “I started eating fermented foods and felt amazing,” Annmarie said.

So, about four years ago, Annmarie began fermenting foods for others and selling them at farmers markets. Her lacto-fermented foods include sauerkrauts, root vegetables, and fruits. “Lacto-fermentation is a traditional way of preserving foods,” Annmarie said. “I use salt to preserve the vegetables, and I let them sit. Alchemy occurs and the result is foods that are rich in probiotics, digestive enzymes, and enhanced vitamin content.”

The fermented products that Annmarie and her husband Sam sell at the UM Farmers Market include a Latin American kraut called Curtido. “Curtido is great on tortillas, tacos, pulled pork or braised meats,” Annmarie said. “Also, our Rosemary Red Kraut pairs well with braised short meat.” Many of Annmarie’s krauts are great on salads, too. “When you put the kraut on salads, you don’t need dressing. Just toss the salad with oil. The kraut adds crunch and flavor,” Annmarie said.

Whether on salads or meats or directly out of the jar, UMFM market patrons are finding many ways to eat and enjoy Annmarie’s krauts. “I keep it local and seasonal. I use many greens and herbs,” Annmarie said. “I am a small producer, and I take the time to locally source my products by going to farms and picking out their best produce.”

For this reason, Annmarie said, her krauts do cost a bit more than store-bought sauerkrauts. “The reason being that I’m taking the time to source and prepare my foods with a different level of consciousness and a greater intention for the good of the community.”

Annmarie’s highest vision for her business is to create a healing center some day where members of the community can come to reconnect with their food. “Many people are disconnected from how food makes them feel,” Annmarie said. “This would be a place where people could come to connect with food and each other. Perhaps, they would come for a weekend retreat that would include massage, yoga, and nutritional counseling. I would also like the center to be a place for parents of children with autism, and for these children themselves. I would like to offer them cooking classes and teach them how to make foods.”

With this as a vision for the future, Annmarie is busy today preparing fermented foods for market patrons and talking with them about their diets. “It’s fun to have a hand in bringing health to the community,” Annmarie said. “It’s creative. I get to create different flavors, and when I sell at the market, I get to connect with people and hear their stories. I also get their feedback on my products, which I like. As a small producer, I can take this feedback and customize my products for my customers.”

Visit Annmarie and her husband Sam at the UM Farmers Market this weekend to share your stories and learn about the health benefits of fermented foods. Annmarie will be bringing a 5-spice apple relish that goes great on toast or on a cheese platter.

PRODUCER SPECIAL: This Saturday, Annmarie is offering a tasting bundle. The bundle includes 8 oz. of three different krauts that patrons can sample. Don’t miss it!

Producer of the Week: A’Dello Vineyard and Winery

Featured wines from among A'Dello's 17 varieties. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

Featured wines from among A’Dello’s 17 varieties. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

Here’s a word problem right off a student’s math test. Are you ready? If a local wine maker produces 300 cases of wine in 2010, and now, in 2015, expects to produce 5,000 cases of wine, how many more cases is he producing for eager customers in just 5 years?

The answer: A lot. Yes, that’s 4,700 more cases.

No wonder Dom Dollose, owner of A’Dello Vineyard and Winery with is wife Tina, said, “I better get a vacation soon.”

Dom and Tina opened the winery in 2010. Since then, their business production has grown exponentially in order to keep up with increasing customer demand for their wines.

The rigors of wine making aren’t new to Dom, though. He grew up in a wine-making family and learned the craft from his grandmother. “Wine making comes very natural to me,” Dom shared. “I would make it every single year for myself and my family.”

Then in 2009, Dom decided he needed a change. “When I hit 55, I was ready for a career change,” Dom said. “I was an electrical contractor when I started making wine as a side job. Soon, the demand for the wine mushroomed, and that’s when we decided to establish the business.”

Today, A’Dello Vineyard and Winery is expanding beyond its home-base location on Simmons Road in Perkiomenville. Dom’s sons, Matt and Mike Dellose, recently opened The Barrel by A’Dello wine bar on Bridge Street in Phoenixville. The Barrel features an upscale tasting room, food, and Wi-Fi. “We have 10 mixed drinks at the wine bar that are only made with our wines. These are all natural wines,” Dom said. In the next three to four years, Dom anticipates opening more Barrel wine bars in multiple locations.

Back on Simmons Road, the tasting room there is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11am to 6pm. “Tastings are $10 per person for you to sample all 17 of our wines in our signature wine glass, which you get to keep after the tasting,” Dom said. “It’s the perfect Italian winery experience, and it’s conveniently located within 45 minutes of everything. It’s a world inside a world.”

In this world, there is indoor and outdoor seating, as well as live music every Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. There are tables, chairs and umbrellas. “I just encourage everyone to bring their own food,” Dom said.

When they’re not working at the winery, Dom and Tina are out at farmers markets selling their wines and telling patrons about the winery. “My favorite thing about being at the market and being a producer is that I make a lot of people happy,” Dom said. At the UM Farmers Market in particular, patrons really enjoy A’Dello’s Blueberry wine.

“We are known for our naturally-made, clean-tasting, and low-sulfate wines among all the Pennsylvania wineries,” Dom stated. “Our wines are sweet, but they are dry. Our dry red wines set us apart from every other winery.”

Dom shared that making wine is very labor intensive. “It’s very hands-on. We’re not automated. We don’t use all the chemicals in our wines,” Dom said. “All our wines are made naturally from PA-grown products, except for the blueberries, which come from New Jersey.”

Dom welcomes UM Farmers Market patrons to visit his winery and enjoy the tasting experience. “It’s especially beautiful in the fall with the changing colors of the leaves,” Dom said. Some members of the UM Farmers Market Committee visited Dom’s winery for a tasting last year and really enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere, good music and beautiful views. We encourage you to put a visit to A’Dello Vineyard and Winery on your fall calendar and expect to be delighted!

PRODUCER SPECIAL: Dom is offering $1 off his apple wine this weekend. This just-bottled wine can be warmed and is great for the fall and winter.

Producer of the Week: Gangster Vegan Organics

Vinny DePaul and a colleague t the UM Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

Vinny DePaul and Camille Kent at the UM Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

In his book, How to Find the Work You Love, Laurence Boldt wrote about basic geometry. He said you will find the work you love – that is, the work you were born to do and the work that will give your life great meaning – at the intersection of your gifts, talents and abilities and the needs of society.

Vincent “Vinny” DePaul lives and works at that intersection. As the founder and creator of Gangster Vegan Organics, Vinny serves society by feeding its members wholesome vegan organic foods that express his care and compassion for humanity.

“My favorite thing about being a producer of these foods is that I get to create them and serve the people,” Vinny said. “I seek to serve love, happiness and gratitude. It’s more of a sacred commerce.”

With his business, Vinny puts people before profit. “I’m working to improve the quality of life worldwide, one fruit and veggie at a time,” he shared. His guiding belief is that you have to Fight to Eat Right.

Vinny came to this worldview by way of a transformative learning experience.

“I owned and operated a very successful t-shirt company in Los Angeles for 10 years,” he said. “I made millions and partied my life away. Everything crashed and burned, and I found myself alone and homeless. At my worst point, someone gave me a fresh-pressed organic juice, and it saved my life.”

After this encounter, Vinny continued to juice and pull his life back together. “I had a profound awakening, and I decided to cleanse my body of all toxins, people included,” Vinny said. “I re-emerged in life as a vegan – more loving, caring and compassionate. I then felt the need to serve the people. I created the brand Gangster Vegan and began selling juice and food out of my house.”

Three years later, Vinny returned to his hometown of Norristown, PA, and opened Gangster Vegan Organics on November 15, 2014. The business has grown significantly as it supports and feeds the whole community. In fact, every Monday night, Vinny opens his doors to feed any child who comes in a hot, organic vegan meal.

And with a name like Gangster Vegan Organics, the community can’t help but be curious about Vinny’s foods and want to stop in. “The word ‘vegan’ is just as scary as the word ‘gangster,'” Vinny said. “I want the people to know that culture and society has our kids brainwashed into this gangster lifestyle. We are making it gangster, and we’re making it cool and hip to eat healthy and be well. We are not just chewing on lettuce and carrots. Our food has flavor, soul, and most importantly love.”

The patrons at the UM Farmers Market can vouch for the flavor, soul, and love in Vinny’s foods. On Saturdays at the market, they look forward to all his products, most especially Vinny’s Esta Loca Taco Salad, The Truth Juice, and Goji Balls, a superfood ball dessert.

At his physical store location at 2454 West Main Street in Norristown, Vinny offers a number of additional items. These include at least eight to 10 different juice varieties, five to seven different types of smoothies, seven to 10 different raw vegan foods, as well as raw pies, cakes and desserts. Vinny also offers snacks, kale chips, raw crackers and cookies.

Whether at the market or in his store, Vinny said he enjoys “connecting with the beautiful human being.”

Be sure to visit Vinny at both locations so you can experience for yourself the good foods that come as a result of him living life at the intersection of his unique gifts and our society’s need for healthful nourishment.

PRODUCER SPECIAL:  This Saturday, stop by the Gangster Vegan Organics booth for $1 wellness shots.

Producer of the Week: Marcia’s Cupcakery

Marcia's Cupcakery logo.

Marcia’s Cupcakery logo.

Marcia Ford-Bey is a cupcake mastermind, and it’s not just because it says so on her business card. Marcia has the awards – and the fan appreciation – to prove it. Red Velvet, S’mores, Cookies and Cream, Twix. These flavors are among the most popular ones at the UM Farmers Market. While Marcia’s Cupcakery is a new producer with the market this season, it hasn’t taken long for Marcia to win over the taste buds of many of our patrons.

“I love to create new and unique flavors,” Marcia said. “They can appeal to all different tastes. Plus, it’s a way of getting my creativity out.”

Marcia knew she was on to something special when she entered her Twix cupcake into a competition in 2014. The judge had been a chef who worked under Emeril Lagasse. “When she ate my cupcake, she stopped and did a dance. Then she ate three more,” Marcia shared. “I knew then that I needed to do something with my cupcakes.”

Marcia began baking at a young age with her mother. “She taught me how to make cakes from scratch,” Marcia said. “I got my love of baking from my mom.” Marcia’s mom is still involved with the baking, helping Marcia with her business.

Marcia’s cupcakes are gourmet and made with the finest ingredients. “I use Madagascar vanilla extract and not McCormick’s. I use Scharffen Berger chocolate and not Hershey’s. I use butter and milk and not shortening,” Marcia said. “I only bake with good, old fashioned quality products all the time.”

Marcia hand-crafts each of her gourmet cupcakes. It takes time, she explained. The Twix cupcake, for example, requires Marcia to form the cookie crust, make the batter, chop up the Twix pieces, and more. “I think people may think that baking cupcakes is an easy thing to do,” Marcia said. “It’s actually very time consuming.”

Marcia doesn’t regret the time, however, when she sees how much the UMFM patrons enjoy her homemade creations. “It’s always so rewarding to see people’s reaction for the first time when they taste one of my cupcakes,” she said.

Marcia enjoys being at the UM Farmers Market. She enjoys meeting new people and encouraging them to try out her new products. She especially loves repeat customers, she said. And with her yummy cupcake flavors, there are many!

PRODUCER SPECIAL: Get 2 mini-cupcakes for $3 this Saturday. Now, that’s a delicious deal!

Producer of the Week: MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes

Deb Streeter-Davitt talks with a patron at the market about her Irish Victory Cakes. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

Deb Streeter-Davitt talks with a patron at the market about her Irish Victory Cakes. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

For Deb Streeter-Davitt, Head Caketress at MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes, baking is something much more than precise measurements, baking pans, and oven temperatures. It’s her connection to her dear Great Granddad who was a renowned baker himself.

Deb’s Great Granddad is James MacDowell of the MacDougall clan who hailed from Northern Ireland. At the turn of the last century, he baked and decorated buttery cakes that were sought out by the royals who lived in England, Ireland and Scotland.

“I found Great Granddad’s famous butter cake recipe about 30 years ago and was instantly intrigued with his baking and cake decorating fame throughout the British Isles in the late 1890s to the early 1900s,” said Deb. “He was the original Cake Boss!”

Deb eventually – and unexpectedly – became a “cake boss” herself when the company that employed her downsized its workforce in 2009 amidst the economic downturn. “At this point I thought, what a great opportunity to bring Great Granddad’s legacy alive,” Deb said. “That’s how MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes came to be.”

Today Deb is busy making deliciously-flavored cakes and growing her business with the help of her Mom and Dad. “We’re carrying on something truly special in our family,” she said.

Deb works hard to seek out ingredients for her cakes that are local, humane certified and free range. “Not only do we want to make our customers’ day a wee bit sweeter,” she shared. “We also want customers to feel great enjoying their VICTORY knowing that they are supporting local farmers, flour mills, manufacturers and small businesses.”

If you’ve visited MacDougall’s booth at the UM Farmers Market, you know how tasty all Deb’s confections are from the free samples she hands out to patrons. The biggest crowd pleaser at the market, though, according to Deb, is Dassie’s Traditional Cake. “This is Great Granddad’s amazing butter cake dressed and dotted with Wilbur’s chocolate and butter scotch,” Deb said. “I love it, too!”

Deb and her parents have been part of the UM Farmers Market family for many years. “I love the people that work and shop at the UM Farmers Market,” Deb said. “It’s just a joy to be there!” We agree, knowing that our market is more than “a wee bit sweeter” with Deb and her Victory Cakes!

Producer of the Week: Brian Steer

Steer's vegetable field at spring planting time in East Coventry Township, Chester County. Photo courtesy of Brian Steer.

Steer’s vegetable field at spring planting time in East Coventry Township, Chester County. Photo courtesy of Brian Steer.

Brian Steer refers to himself as a “potluck” gardener and grower. “I have learned from talking with other growers, from research, and from experience,” he said. “And I have come to realize that success or failure is often beyond my control. Thus, the potluck.”

Just take one look at Brian’s colorful selection of eggplants, peppers and heirloom tomatoes, and you might be inspired to adopt his potluck approach, too.

Brian is a Pottstown farmer and the owner of Steer’s Vegetables and Herbs. His fondness for farming began when he was 12-years-old and grew string beans from seed. “I was amazed that the beans grew so vigorously and that I could grow food right in the backyard!”

Brian began growing commercially four years ago when his efforts to grow a variety of heirloom tomatoes resulted in a plentiful yield. He had more tomatoes than he could eat or give away to his family, friends and neighbors.

At the UM Farmers Market, patrons seek out Brian for his delicious heirloom tomatoes. “These are tomato species that have been around for many decades, if not centuries, and are genetically unmutated,” he said. As such, growing them presents a fair share of challenges. “Once ripe, they don’t last long. Many appear oddly formed. Heirlooms can’t be transported very far without damage, and are vulnerable to disease. But the taste of a good heirloom tomato is unbeatable.”

While growing heirloom varieties may prove challenging, Brian maintains his passion for growing based on three main reasons. First, he likes receiving positive feedback from customers who enjoy his vegetables. They make the labor well worth it. Second, Brian likes studying the process. “Watching the growing season unfold, seeing what insects are about, and what animals, which diseases, what mistakes I made and need t0 correct next year, and how the weather affects the crop,” he said. And third, Brian finds personal rewards in his farming role. “The peace of being in the field at any time, but especially at dusk, even if soaked in sweat and covered in sunscreen and bug repellant,” he shared.

While the rewards are great, the effort involved in farming cannot be overstated. “I think many of us are unaware of just how much hard work is required to grow vegetables organically. You can’t just plant seeds and come back later to harvest,” Brian said. “You must water, control weeds and animals, pinch unwanted growth, tie up, cut away disease and blight. Constancy is a must.”

“Industrialized agribusiness and its exploitation of labor has made food very cheep in the United States,” Brian explained. “I think many people – maybe subconsciously – assume that the price is low because production is easy. We all would do well to remember that ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages.'”

The patrons at the UM Farmers Market, according to Brian, appreciate him as a laborer and are very curious about his work. They ask questions about what he grows and how he does so. Many will share their own “gardening adventures” and recipes with him.

Brian enjoys being at the market because of these patrons and the folks who run the market. “The staff is always positive and helpful. It’s amazing when you consider the staff is volunteers who show up every week – and simply do not fail,” he said. Brian refers to the market atmosphere as upbeat.

Brian also shared that three of the founding members of the UM Farmers Market – Erika Spott, Lydia Dan Sardiñas, and Tina Garzillo – recently presented at a meeting in Pottstown where an organizing committee is looking to start a farmers market there. “These are the kind of people who make the Upper Merion Farmers Market such a great pleasure,” he said.

Thank you, Brian!

Please stop by Brian’s booth this week to check out the unbeatable taste of his heirloom tomatoes and other vegetables.

Producer of the Week: Lavinia’s Cookies

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Delicious confections from Lavinia’s Cookies. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

Do you have a certain food that conjures up a meaningful memory for you every time you eat it? For Vince Lattuca, that food is his great-grandmother’s biscotti. “When I eat the biscotti, I always think of family,” he said.

Vince is the owner of Lavinia’s Cookies in West Chester, PA. As a child, Vince remembers growing up eating biscotti. “I have never known a cookie jar without biscotti in it,” Vince said. “I thought everyone had a jar of biscotti just like mine.”

But that wasn’t the case. You see, not everyone had a grandmother named Anna who used her own mother’s recipe to make delicious biscotti to fill those cookie jars. Anna’s mother, Lavinia, emigrated from the Abruzzo region of Italy and settled with her family in South Philadelphia. Lavinia had a talent for making confections. “She had a candy store on Walnut Street before the Great Depression,” Vince said. “She was a candy maker and a baker.”

Anna would use Lavinia’s recipe to bake biscotti to share with her family. Today, Vince uses Lavinia’s same recipe to make biscotti that he shares with us at the UM Farmers Market each Saturday. “I make all the cookies,” Vince said. “My mom makes all the biscotti.”

Vince’s mother is Joyce Tilli-Lattuca, and together, she and Vince have an idea to one day open a bakery in the West Chester area. “Mom always thought the biscotti was unique and that it would sell well in a bakery,” Vince said.

Joyce’s opinion on the uniqueness of the biscotti was reinforced several years ago when she worked in San Diego as a hair stylist. For special occasions, Joyce would make biscotti using Lavinia’s recipe and bring it in to work for her colleagues. They raved about it and encouraged her to go into business selling it.

Her colleagues’ encouragement morphed into reality years later when Vince decided to leave his desk job after two years and begin Lavinia’s Cookies with Joyce’s help. “I decided I needed to do something more creative,” Vince shared. “So, I quit to start this business.” The business is now in its fourth year of operation.

In addition to selling Lavinia’s signature biscotti to buyers, Vince also sells a great variety of speciality cookies. These include sugar, oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip, double chocolate chip, and coconut chocolate chip. Vince has also recently introduced a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie to accommodate customers with food sensitivities and intolerances. Vince stated that more gluten-free cookie options are on their way once he is satisfied with their taste and quality.

“We like to experiment and try new varieties like the coconut chocolate chip and gluten-free options. We hope people will love these new items,” Vince said. “We also feel it’s important to make our baked goods with only all-natural, locally-sourced products.” These include fine extracts that enhance the quality of Vince’s cookies and biscotti.

Recently, Vince converted a portion of his home into a commercial kitchen space. Here he bakes all his items, including the top-selling products at the UM Farmers Market – namely, the chocolate chip cookies and toasted almond biscotti.

“Our motto is to always make it fresh and get it to our customers fast,” Vince said. “We also believe in providing the highest quality products at the best price.”

You can find Lavinia’s Cookies here at the UM Farmers Market, in addition to the East Goshen Farmers’ Market and the N3rd St Farmers’ Market in Old City. They can also be spotted in the Weavers Way Co-op in Chestnut Hill, the Newark Natural Foods store in Newark, DE, and the campus café at the University of Pennsylvania.

“It’s still our dream to one day open a local bakery,” Vince said. And when that happens, there are plenty of UMFM patrons who will line up to buy Vince’s biscotti and cookies because, to us, they taste like family, too.

PRODUCER’S SPECIAL: This Saturday, Vince will offer 1 dozen mix and match cookies or biscotti for $10.