Opportunity for growth

Vendors: A hit with many consumers, the farmer's market also hands much larger profits to growers.

May 10, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Amid an arid breeze and blistering sun, the Dobbin Center Farmer's Market opened yesterday, with growers praying for a better season than last year's.

Eight vendors came to opening day, setting up tents in the parking lot of the Dobbin Center to sell strawberries, tomato and pepper plants, fresh flowers and bread.

Mike Musachio, a fruit-and-vegetable grower from Caroline County, participates in a half-dozen farmers markets in Maryland and Virginia. "If you are small, this is the way to go," he said.

This year, 14 vendors are to participate in the Dobbin Center market, which is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2: 30 p.m. to 6: 30 p.m. until November, said market manager Tom Owens.

Although the growers don't have a lot of variety yet, they were eager to get started before Mother's Day, he said.

Yesterday, the mood was mainly upbeat, although farmers said rain is needed soon. "It's a dust bowl already," said Lana Edelen, a Charles County vegetable grower.

The Howard County market is open to farmers within 150 miles of Columbia who grow their own crops. It provides an important outlet for farmers to reach the consumers, said Ginger S. Myers, agricultural marketing specialist with the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

"You can think of it as an agriculture incubator," she said. "They are constantly on the search for what is new." Among the discoveries they are bringing to the farmer's market, she said, are exotic vegetables such as blue potatoes.

And while farmers receive about 20 cents for every dollar spent in a grocery store, they receive about 80 cents for every dollar spent at the market.

Howard County's only farmer's market, which opened in 1996, has operated at Dobbins Center for three years.

Hazida Hosein of Columbia said she has shopped at the market since it opened. "It's all fresh. There are no chemicals. It's more healthy," she said, holding bags of spinach, bread and strawberries.

Midweek opportunity

Although many of the vendors participate in other farmer's markets, they say they like Howard County's.

"The biggest advantage is it allows us to come in the middle of the week and let us move our crops," said Mike Keister, a Clinton strawberry grower.

Ned Atwater decided Howard would be the perfect place to promote and sell his baked bread.

Atwater began his bread business in Baltimore about a year ago and will be selling his goods at three farmer's markets this season.

"We don't have a store of our own," he said. "But we want to do retail."

`Nice to be out here'

The market also gives visibility to growers whose farms are off the beaten path.

The Shaws say they used to get a lot of customers by their organic vegetable farm on Harriet Tubman Lane until Route 32 was reconfigured.

"Now we hardly get anyone to come by the stand," said Dorothy Shaw. "It's nice to be out here."

Concern about heat

Shaw said she was undaunted by the early heat wave, and most growers at the market said damage to their crops has been slight so far.

But Keister, said the recent hot, dry days have damaged about a quarter of his crop.

"They came on so fast that many shriveled out in the heat," he said.

Jim Brown, a Howard County farmer, said he would have to begin irrigating his vegetables this week if it didn't rain.

"It's scary," Brown said behind a table of flowers and pepper and tomato plants.

Last year, he and his wife, Linda, lost their entire sweet corn crop to the draught.

Farmers had hoped that April's cool, wet days would dispel the threat of drought this year.

"It got our hopes up for a more typical season," David Shaw said. "But the soil moisture is dropping."

Although he can irrigate some of his vegetable crop, "We can't do as well as Mother Nature can," he said.

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