Preston Street farmers' market to stay closed indefinitely

Terrorism alert prompts action near state offices

August 15, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Along with vine-ripened tomatoes and bunches of basil, one city farmers' market has something else to offer, according to state officials: an opportunity for terrorism.

Because of security concerns, the state has shut down the market at the state office complex on Preston Street until further notice.

The weekly market, which had been open Wednesdays, has been closed since federal officials raised the terror alert level in Washington on Aug. 1.

"It's all because of our proximity to D.C.," said Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of General Services, which owns and manages the complex. "They decided to deploy tighter security around all state buildings. Unfortunately, that has affected a very popular farmers' market."

The market was considered a threat because vendors were allowed to park their cars and trucks much closer to the state office complex than is usually permitted, he said.

"The police felt that could leave us in a vulnerable position," Humphrey said.

City officials expressed concern about the closure because low-income senior citizens visit the market to buy fresh produce with coupons provided through the Senior Farmers' Market Program.

"We're always concerned if our clients aren't going to have access to farmers' markets," said John P. Stewart, executive director of Baltimore's Commission on Aging and Retirement Education.

But Stewart was not critical of the state's action. "We are concerned about safety," he said.

CARE officials could not say how many low-income seniors regularly purchased produce at that location, which had three vendors. Citywide, the commission distributes about 3,400 coupon books a year.

More than a dozen other farmers' markets in the city participate in the program, and seniors can use the coupons at those locations, Stewart said. The alternatives include the Waverly market in the 400 block of E. 32nd St., which is open from 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays; and the Baltimore City Farmers' Market on Saratoga Street between Holliday and Gay streets (under the Jones Falls Expressway), which is open from 8 a.m. to noon Sundays.

Washington's alert level was raised from yellow, or "elevated," to orange, or "high," Aug. 1, when federal officials announced they had intelligence indicating that al-Qaida might be planning an attack in that city, as well as in New York and New Jersey.

The state agency plans to review its decision to close the market and will consider reopening it if it is considered safe to do so, Humphrey said.

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