Farmer's market finds new homes

Consumers, growers pleased with decision on library, church sites

May 08, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Laura Johnson began her weekly trek to the Howard County Farmer's Market yesterday-- the market's opening day -- buying fresh apples because the fruit is "so disgusting in the grocery store."

On the parking lot of the Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church in Columbia -- one of the market's two new homes -- Johnson joined a steady stream of customers buying produce and plants under the farmers' tents, beginning the six-month season at what farmers and customers hope will become permanent sites.

"I hated it when they moved it from place to place," said Johnson, of Columbia. "I and all of my neighbors are hoping [the new locations] are a go."

And so are the farmers.

After months of searching, the farmers market board voted in March to enter into agreements with the church and the east Columbia branch of the Howard County Library to house the market once a week rent-free.

The Tuesday market will operate at the church, off Cedar Fern Court, through Oct. 29. The Thursday market will open at the east Columbia library, 6600 Cradlerock Way, beginning tomorrow through Nov. 21.

Both markets will be open from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., opening and closing a half-hour later to accommodate customers, said David Shaw, the market master.

Shaw said the beginning of the season is always slow, but farmers have set up signs and mailed information to prospective customers to inform the public about the new locations.

"It does take a little while," he said. "But the real die-hards will find us, and the new people will be here, too."

Johnson did not have any problem finding the market's new location. She was there the moment it opened -- despite the drizzle and the gusts of wind that threatened to knock over the tents -- to stock up on seasonal foods, such as lettuce, tomatoes and strawberries.

"It's fresh, good, and I like the variety," she said.

Tomorrow, the market is holding an opening ceremony at 2 p.m. at the library, with County Executive James N. Robey scheduled to ring the bell to open the market, Shaw said.

An opening celebration is scheduled for the Tuesday market June 11, when more farmers will be likely to attend, Shaw said. Seven vendors set up stands yesterday, and more than a dozen are expected to be at tomorrow's market.

The market's future had been uncertain since last season, when Columbia Management Inc. rejected a proposed five-year deal for it to use the parking lot of Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia.

The market first opened in Oakland Mills Village Center in 1990 and has not had a permanent residence since, operating in several locations, including Harper's Choice village and the Dobbin Center.

Now the market has a three-year agreement with the library and an open-ended agreement with the church.

Linda Brown, whose Triadelphia Lake View Farms was part of the original market, had been frustrated with the market's wandering existence. But now she is optimistic about its future and said she expects the church's location will attract more customers.

"This is a good part of our livelihood," she said. "So a good location is very important."

Tony Evans, coordinator of farmers' market programs for the state Department of Agriculture, said the two locations for the market are ideal.

That's why Ian Ferguson of Columbia has been following the market to all of its locations from the beginning, searching for the vegetables and fruit he knows are not heavily treated with pesticides.

"You know where it comes from -- it's fresh," he said. "Strawberries from Maryland are always better than strawberries from California."

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