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Eating Healthy at the Monroe Farmers' Market

Locally grown and organic produce, specialty baked goods and much more are now available every Friday afternoon on Town Hall Green.

Judging from the large number of people who flocked to Town Hall Green Friday afternoon for the opening of Monroe's Farmers' Market, the community ate well last weekend.

Market Master Susan Muro said a steady stream of customers visited with purveyors representing Connecticut farms.

“Everything here is locally grown,” Muro explained. For this reason, she said it's still early on in Connecticut's growing season. “As we go on, though, there will be more and more things here to choose from every Friday,” Muro added. “Every week you're going to find something new. That's what is so fun about shopping at the Farmers' Market.”

However, some seasonal items — such as garlic scapes — will only be available for a few weeks. “They won't be tender anymore,” Muro said.

Green leaf lettuce, Boston lettuce, broccoli, Bok choy and kale were some of the produce available for purchase.

Kelly Sicilia, of Monroe, appreciates having the market nearby because, though she likes eating locally grown foods, she describes herself as “too lazy” to look for it. “It's nice that it's right here in our backyard,” Sicilia said.

First Selectman Stephen Vavrek was on hand at the start of Friday's market, and he bought some fresh beets and organic eggs from Waterview Farm.

“I'm so proud of Sue for making this all happen,” Vavrek said.

In 2008, Muro worked closely with town officials to launch the first Farmers' Market in Monroe. Since then, the market and its visitors has grown.

Before returning to his office indoors, Vavrek also purchased a jar of homemade apple pie jam from Liz Cerrato, owner of Food Jule.

Cerrato, who is a Monroe resident, said Friday marked the debut of her company, Food Jule. Cerrato explained that the specialty food company featuring homemade jams, muffins and granola was conceived as she sought solace this winter from her newborn son's death. Diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, baby Julian passed away in January when he was nine weeks old.

“I've always enjoyed baking and cooking and this has been very therapeutic and healing for me,” Cerrato explained.

It's a natural fit for her to sell her sweet new products at the Farmers' Market because Cerrato used to come here every Friday, she said. “I'm big into organic, health food,” Cerrato said.

In fact, she said her muffins were made using half whole wheat flour and half white flour. “I want to show people that you can have food that's good for you and that tastes good,” Cerrato said.

A portion of Food Jules' sales will be given to a foundation for those affected with spinal muscular atrophy.

This summer Cerrato will host a series of international cooking classes for children at the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library.

Growing up in Bridgeport, Cerrato said several family members attended Friday's market to support her new business.

Many local moms and dads had children in tow as they perused the various foods at each vendor. Jonathan Castano, son of St. Ex Specialty Food's owner Giovanni Castano, was passing out samples of homemade bread topped with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and homemade pesto. “If the kids like it, then the parents buy it,” he said.

And, it was evident by the number of children enjoying samples that they did enjoy the food.

“This is the standard Friday night dinner for many Monroe families, including my own,” Muro said with a laugh. “The kids look forward to this all week.”

Ben Agatston, 18, said that his mother sent him to the Farmers' Market with a grocery list. “She wanted cranberry walnut bread, mozzarella and pestos,” he explained. “She also likes the flowers here.”

Every Friday someone from his family visits the Market. “It's good food,” Agatston said.

Gilbert's Gourmet Goodies, a Newtown-based business, provided gluten-free and allergy-free cookies and breads. Owner Liz Gilbert said she baked blueberry and zucchini breads especially for Friday's Market. She also has a selection of her cookies available for “mix and match.”

“This is the third year that we've been here,” Gilbert said. “It's really a great market.”

Kelly Nastri, owner of Kelly's Kreations, a company that produces goat milk soaps, agreed. “We do very well here,” Nastri said. “Sue Muro does such a good job organizing everything. We've been here since the market started.”

The Nastri family owns and operates Bella Caprine (which means “Beautiful Goat”) Farm in Seymour. They usually bring one of their 18 goats to the Monroe market but because possible thunderstorms were expected, the animals were left at home this week.

Nastri started creating the goat milk soap line in 2007. She offers several different scents and also soaps which are unscented. “Once people try it, they love it,” she explained.

Nastri's three children – Courtney, 16, Dominic, 13, and Antoinette, 12 — accompanied her to Friday's market. “It's gotten bigger and bigger each year we've been coming,” Nastri said. “I think people need to realize what they're putting into their bodies. It's so important.”

The Monroe Farmers' Market is held every Friday afternoon, from 3 to 6 p.m., rain or shine, in front of Town Hall, near the Gazebo.

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