Baltimore gets taste of produce from South Market: Sugar cane, rutabagas and collard greens are among items featured at the Black Farmers Market, which was held to help a group of African-American farmers from South Carolina.

November 24, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

For dozens of Baltimoreans, yesterday's Black Farmers Market was a chance to do some grocery shopping, sample home-grown Southern food and support a cause.

On sale was a truckload of stalks of sugar cane as tall and sturdy as walking staffs, deep-green collards with leaves as big as giant fans and rutabagas the size of softballs.

Sponsored by the Archdiocese of Baltimore's Office of African-American Catholic Ministries, the one-day event at St. Frances Academy in East Baltimore's Johnston Square was held to benefit a cooperative of black farmers in South Carolina and to foster the spirit of "ujamaa," a Swahili term meaning cooperative economics, among area residents.

Arcola Powell couldn't wait to take home the $1.50 stalk of sugar cane she bought and peel it and cut it up for her grandchildren, the way her father used to do it for her years ago.

"I was so excited, I called my dad and said, 'Guess what I'm going to do today?' " she said.

And Powell, 54, was just as enthusiastic about supporting struggling black farmers.

"I think it's important to support all black businesses. We have to support one another if we're going to move forward," she said.

Surveying an early-morning throng waiting in lines for produce, she added, "I'm so very proud to see so many black people supporting them."

So were Leon Crump and Felder Freeman, farmers and members of a group of about 100 farmers from the coastal areas of South Carolina, part of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.

"It makes farmers in the South feel good that sisters and brothers in the North support them," Freeman said.

The two left South Carolina at 9 p.m. Friday in a truck packed with 7,000 pounds of produce, driving all night and arriving at St. Frances at 6 a.m. By 11 a.m., three hours after the market opened to the public, the truck was three-quarters empty. Some items, such as pecans at $2 a pound, and sweet potatoes at 40 cents a pound, were long gone.

The produce would generate about $2,500, they said. Almost all of the money would go to the farmers who grew the food, who they said need the cash.

"Our farmers are not rich," said Freeman. "Most are below the poverty line."

Crump, who heads the cooperative and tills 20 acres near Florence, S.C., said that, besides income, the idea was to introduce northern markets to South Carolina produce.

"What we'd really like to have eventually is a warehouse, so folks know they could come and buy food on a regular basis," he said.

"We can put our produce up to that of anybody's in the country. It's the soil and the love of the soil and the love of growing it" that make it so good, he added.

Therese Wilson Favors, who heads the Baltimore Office of African-American Ministries, said yesterday's turnout was the best of the three Black Farmers Markets held in Baltimore.

"People are raising their consciousness" about the need to support small black farmers, said Favors, who said there are about 25,000 African-Americans among the Baltimore archdiocese's 473,000 parishioners.

"With this kind of demand, we will be interested in doing it again as a summer market," she said.

That would seem to suit many of yesterday's shoppers.

Eugene Phair, 61, who grew up in Fayetteville, N.C., left the market with bags of sweet potatoes and collard greens and stalks of sugar cane -- and the sense of having supported something important.

"I love country food," he said, adding, "I need it, and the farmers need to sell it."

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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