Farmers' market turns 25 Vendors, customers like down-home atmosphere

July 29, 1996|By Traci Johnson Mathena | Traci Johnson Mathena,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

On Saturday, Carroll County Farmers' Market opened from 8 a.m until 1 p.m. and, as usual, vendors sold homemade baked goods, produce and crafts.

But it was not entirely business as usual. Vendors and loyal customers tasted birthday cake, enjoyed entertainment and shared prizes as Carroll's farmers' market celebrated its 25th anniversary.

To many, the market exhibits the best of Carroll County: fresh produce, baked goods and preserves, handcrafts and a hometown atmosphere that makes shopping the stalls like a visit with close friends.

The market is what keeps people -- patrons and vendors -- coming back to the Ag Center off Smith Avenue in Westminster.

"I've been there for 24 years, and I wouldn't have stayed that long if I wasn't ecstatic about it," said Jane Sussman, whose homemade cakes, jams and fresh eggs are a market staple. "I do it because I enjoy doing it."

Saturday's market also was a celebration of the success predicted 25 years ago by its founders, who included Robert Jones, a former county extension agent, and Taneytown's Helen Null, who chaired the original farmers' market committee.

A news release from that year declared, "Along with old-time traditions like beekeeping and homemade ice cream, roadside vegetable markets near urban areas have been booming in recent years."

'A good idea'

That is when 13 garden producers decided to test the market in Westminster.

"The thinking was that in Carroll County there were a number of people that did crafts and produced food that they'd like to sell direct to the consumer," Jones said.

"It just sounded like a good idea to have one."

The market enjoys steady business and boasts 40 stalls in the summer and more than 100 at the Easter, spring and Christmas markets. Vendors and customers continue to have the contact that makes a farmers' market work.

"I think we've sort of become a family," said Pat Kennedy, a former county extension home economist who has sold dried and silk floral designs at the market for 23 years.

"We have a number of customers who have stayed with us. They have watched how our products have changed, but we still have the farming community behind us," she said.

New vendors such as Ellen and Tom Childs of Taneytown take advantage of the community the market has created.

Their hydroponic tomatoes, grown in a greenhouse at their Oak Grove Farms, have become a popular item in a market filled with traditionally grown produce.

"I think it's a friendly atmosphere and it's warm," said Ellen Childs, who has been selling at the market for six weeks. "The people seem willing to talk to you, and I've had good interactions with the vendors and the customers as well."

A way of life

The market has become a way of life for Kennedy.

When her son was born 20 years ago, she stopped working and began her floral design business.

"As a result of the farmers' market, I was able to do that," Pat Kennedy said.

"I would have to say that 90 percent of my business came from the farmers' market," said Kennedy, whose husband, Ed, makes and sells country wood furniture.

Customers and vendors know that it's the attention to important things -- quality, variety and atmosphere -- that will take the market through its next 25 years.

"When the market was formed, it had all produce stands, stands like mine [homemade baked goods] and crafts, so we've stuck with that all these years," Sussman said.

"We've kept a high standard all of these years."

The market is always looking for more things to sell.

If people have "good-quality merchandise, good produce, then we want them at the Carroll County Farmers' Market," Sussman said. "We want them here."

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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