South County's last stands a haven of farming traditions, fresh produce


July 08, 2002|By Kimbra Cutlip | Kimbra Cutlip,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ALTHOUGH THE suburbs are fast engulfing South County, one undeniable sign remains that the country survives out here - roadside farm stands.

These are not the roadside stands of the suburbs, where vendors display produce trucked in from a distant farmer's auction. These are small family stands owned and operated by farmers who grow their product right there, on land within shouting distance of the weathered wooden tables and crates in which they display it.

It doesn't get any fresher than that. And because these stands don't open until the crops are ready, when they do, it means summer has arrived.

By the farm stand calendar, summer usually reaches these parts around the first week of July. Right on schedule, the Zangs and the Chases opened their stands last week. Both are local farm families who operate their stands in the traditional way, selling only fresh-picked produce. Most of it is grown right on their land or on their neighbors' land.

"It's fast disappearing," said Laura Zang of the traditional farm stand. At 69, Zang runs her family's stand on Muddy Creek Road in Harwood with her husband, Billy Zang, 73. They bought the 100-acre farm with Billy's parents 47 years ago.

Today, their son Tim lives on the farm, and their grandchildren, Lauren, Brian and Sarah, help tend the stand. But they don't farm it all. They lease some of the farm for grain production, while they tend to about 5 acres of produce and flowers, and a 300-tree peach orchard.

On one of their first open days last week, a bricklayer named Larry Rupp dropped by with a bunch of large red beets from his garden. He lives just up the road. Zang agreed to sell Rupp's beets and told him she could use another bunch, "small ones," she said. And Rupp promised to deliver.

It's that fresh-from-the-earth quality that keeps people coming. That's what drew Pat Tongue, 58, of Annapolis to stop by the Chases' farm stand on Davidsonville Road last week. Tongue had stopped at the stand on the way home from work at Homestead Gardens. Compared with the stores, "it's much fresher, and the quality is superior," Tongue said.

Robert Chase, 45, is the Davidsonville farmer who owns the stand. "I've been selling produce all my life, and I've never sold day-old corn," he said. Chase said it takes about three men an hour to pick 300 dozen ears of corn. They're up at sunrise picking the corn that will end up on the stand in the afternoon, he explained.

He took over the farm business from his father-in-law 23 years ago. "Throughout the years, we've seen people grow up," he said. "A lot of my help are customers' kids, and I remember when mama was pregnant with them."

Tierney Davis, 17, of Davidsonville started working at the stand a few years ago. "My mom's been coming here to get corn since I was 4 years old," she said. "The Chases are great people, and I really like it." This year her 14-year-old sister, Rori, started working the stand also.

Like the Zangs, Chase has seen a change over the years. "It used to be everyone had a little agricultural knowledge," he said. "Now, most people are two or three generations removed from the land.

"A lot of them don't know what fresh lima beans look like," he explained. He sells lima beans in the pods, and says he has to be careful to make sure his customers know how to cook them. "I have to tell the girls here to say in kind of a joking way to the customers, `Now, you know you've got to peel those, right?'"

Zang has also grown accustomed to coaching the clientele. "We get a lot of people that really don't know how to use the vegetables," she said. "Once you tell them how to fix something, then you have a customer coming back for more."

Zang said she sees a lot of people who are willing to pay a little more to feed their families good food. It's obvious she takes pride in providing it to them. "The older we get, the harder it is to do," she said, "but the alternative is sitting around, so we do it."

But it's clear sitting around isn't in her blood. She also sells her produce at the Annapolis Farmers' Market, where she is actively involved in the board. "It's been a very rewarding and rich life," she said, "particularly when you go to the markets and you have such beautiful produce, and we present it in a nice manner."

Other markets

Thursday is the grand opening of a farmers' market in Annapolis. Location is the "plaza" in front of Whitmore Parking Garage at Calvert and Clay streets across from the Arundel Center county office building. A small market with changing individual vendors at the Market Space down by City Dock is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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