Expanding harvests, growing markets

UP FRONT

Vegetables: The area's many farmers' markets are setting up for the summer.

June 01, 2000|By Gerri Kobren | Gerri Kobren,Special to the Sun

On a Saturday morning, the 32nd Street Farmers' Market in Waverly is serving up a feast for the senses.

There are red apples and green pears, fat radishes and thumb-thick scallions, cut flowers and plants in pots, mushrooms in various shapes and sizes, lettuce and parsley, and bowls full of the fashionable mixed herbs and greens known as mesclun.

In many ways it is a feast made to order: Opened in 1980 as a Saturday-morning produce market during the growing season, Waverly was heeding the call of the customers when it moved to Saturday mornings year-round, says Marc Rey, president of the market's volunteer board of directors.

In answer to consumer demand, he continues, the market added flowers, baked goods, coffee and ethnic foods. Altogether, there are 32 farmers and other vendors.

The Waverly market is doing well, and it is not alone. Farmers' markets have expanded all across the state, giving growers a place to sell their produce directly to consumers, and giving consumers a place to buy the freshest possible produce and ask merchants for products not currently offered.

There will be about 66 farmers' markets in Maryland this year, up from 21 a decade ago, says Tony Evans, coordinator of farmers' markets for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. "I estimate that 500 to 700 producers use farmers' markets to sell some or all of their products every year." he says. "Gross sales amount to approximately $7 million."

In Baltimore, the biggest market opens for the season Sunday morning on a downtown parking lot beneath the Jones Falls Expressway, at Holliday and Saratoga streets. It is the 23rd year for the Baltimore Farmers' Market, a 6 1/2 -month-long festival of food. Some 45 farmers, plus vendors of seafood, pit beef, prepared foods, coffee and crafts, are expected for some or all of the season.

Other farmers' markets are already open or will be opening soon throughout the metro area (see accompanying list).

For some of the farmers, these markets are both a family tradition and a way of life.

"We concentrate all our efforts on the farmers' markets," says David Hochheimer of Black Rock Orchard in Lineboro (on the Carroll County-Pennsylvania line). He and his wife, Emily Zaas, bring their produce to six farmers' markets a week, including Waverly, Towson and Hunt Valley. First they bring apples and pears held over from last October's harvest, then new cherries, berries, peaches, plums and nectarines, and, in the fall, more apples and pears,

Hochheimer's brother Gordon brings Black Rock's bounty to the downtown market on Sundays, as did their father; Bernard Hochheimer was among the farmers at the first market in 1977.

Tailoring their operation to farmers' markets, the Hochheimers have added greenhouses to their farm. There Emily grows flowers and David grows tomatoes because customers come to markets ready to buy them before Mother Nature is ready to produce them outdoors.

It was also as a response to consumers that David expanded his raspberry and blueberry fields. "There's never enough [berries] to satisfy the demand," he says.

Year-round and early-season markets are also one of the reasons Fuji and Mutju apples are among the varieties in David's orchard: "They're good keepers," he says, and that's essential if you want to sell those apples when the trees are not bearing fruit.

The evening before David brings the apples to spring and early-summer markets, he pulls them out of cold storage.

Farmer Scott Williams also has the consumer foremost in mind. "We try to be customer-friendly," says Williams, who, with his wife, Lucinda Sebastian, brings multiple varieties of herbs and vegetables to farmers' markets -- including downtown, Waverly and Towson -- from their Gardeners' Gourmet farm in Uniontown, Carroll County.

Originally chicken-and-egg farmers, the couple changed their focus to lettuce and parsley, mesclun and heirloom tomatoes and other vegetables when cholesterol-phobia seemed poised to crack the egg business. "But the people said, 'Bring the eggs!' " he says, so the couple sells them still.

Eager to oblige in other ways, they also grow the particular vegetables customers have said they want. Requests have come in for sorrel, shallots, fennel and blue Hubbard squash.

"So we wrote the names down, went to the seed catalogs and planted them," says Williams.

For Debbie Buppert of the family-owned Doran's Chance farm in Eldersburg, satisfying the customers' desire for flowers has meant satisfying a desire of her own. Flower-growing, she says, used to be "my fun, my hobby, my love. Now it's a valid part of the business." She's not alone in that operation. "Every farmer I know who grows corn and tomatoes also grows flowers," she says.

The Bupperts also grow foodstuffs, of course -- a succession of produce that they sell at their own produce stand in Carroll County as well as at the Baltimore Farmers' Market.

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