More consumers are heading to the source to purchase fresh produce at good prices

On The Farm

June 04, 2006|By TED SHELSBY

With Memorial Day visible in the rearview mirror, two agriculture staples of summer are reappearing on the landscape across Maryland: pick-your-own farm operations and farmers' markets.

Both styles of produce marketing are growing, state agricultural officials say, as an increasing number of consumers seek freshness and value, while farmers search for additional sources of revenue for their goods.

"The farmer wins, and the consumer wins," said Maryland Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley.

People who don't mind rolling up their sleeves and doing some of the work can save on fruits and vegetables.

At Lohr's Orchard in the Churchville area of Harford County, customers who go into the field and pick strawberries pay $1.15 a pound. Already-picked berries go for $3.75 a quart, which is about a pound.

Candice Lohr, operator of the orchard off Snake Lane, said warmer-than-usual weather resulted in the strawberries coming in early this year. But she said she expects to have them at least for the next several days.

When it comes to pick-your-own operations, there's more to the appeal than value, state officials said.

"It's a great opportunity for the public to see what a farm is like, what rural Maryland is like," said Mark Powell, acting director of marketing at the state Department of Agriculture. "A lot of people turn it into a family outing."

Lohr's Orchard is typical of farms in Maryland that offer pick-your-own or on-site stores.

The season starts with strawberries, then moves into peaches, sweet corn, apples and pumpkins.

The orchard's farm store opens July 1 with a variety of fruits and vegetables, some brought in from nearby farms. The store also stocks jellies and jams and made-on-the-farm apple cider.

"We also make an apple cider slushy, an all-natural fruit drink," Lohr said.

Agriculture officials said they don't have data on how many operations like Lohr's exist in the state. But Jo-Ann Weber, president of the Maryland Direct Farm Market Association, says the nonprofit organization has 24 members who operate pick-your-own fields or have retail outlets on their farms. And she believes there are others as well.

In addition to fruits and vegetables, some farms sell flowers with a cut-your-own format, Weber said.

"In Europe, it has long been popular to go out into the country and cut flowers for the dining room table," she said. "It's something that is just beginning to happen in this county."

Zinnias, snapdragons, dahlias, asters and marigolds are some of the flowers available at cut-your-own farms, Weber said.

Farmers' markets are growing, too, with three opening this year, said Joan Schulz, the market coordinator for the Agriculture Department:

The Oakland Mill Community Association in Columbia, Howard County, will open a market Tuesday and operate it from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays at 5851 Robert Oliver Place on the association's parking lot.

A market will open in Edgewater, Anne Arundel County, on July 6. The market will be in the South River Colony shopping center at Routes 2 and 214 and will operate from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays.

A market to replace a previous operation on the Pimlico Race Course parking lot is slated to open June 21 and will operate Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

These bring the number of farmers' markets in Maryland to 75, with at least one in every county. Schulz said 60 percent of the farmers' markets were open last weekend, with the rest to open this month or next month. Collectively, the markets feature the goods of about 275 farmers.

The market under the Jones Falls Expressway in Baltimore, between Holliday and Gay streets, is the largest, Schulz said. It opened in 1977 and features 26 farmers from surrounding counties.

A listing of farmers' markets and some farms where consumers can pick their own produce can be found on the Agriculture Department's Web site: www.mda.state.md.us.

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