Shoppers embrace market's return

Vendors offer everything from flowers to omelets in downtown

May 07, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,Sun reporter

The Auerhan family of Mount Washington returned yesterday to concrete curb underneath the Jones Falls Expressway as the Baltimore Farmers' Market came to life on its 30th opening day.

"He gets the coffee, I get the food, and we meet here," said Jennifer Auerhan of the weekly outing she enjoys with her husband, Charles, and their three sons. "We've been waiting all winter."

Sam, 5, declared the best part of the market to be the spicy meat pies, while Jacob, 3, said, "I like the big muffins."

Jennifer said she likes the fresh produce and the diverse atmosphere. "I like [that] in the middle of the city there are all types of people walking around."

The market will be open from 8 a.m. until about noon Sundays through Dec. 23. It is believed to be the largest producers-only market in Maryland, with more than 40 vendors who grow or make their own products, said Tracy Baskerville, communications director for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

There are also 26 food vendors and about a dozen craftspeople, she said. The market averages 5,000 shoppers each Sunday at its peak.

The market started with about a dozen vendors from four counties at Market Place in 1977 and moved to Pratt and President streets in 1985 because of construction. Two years later, it moved to its current location at Holliday and Saratoga streets in order to have more space and get some shelter from sun and rain under the highway overpass.

Organizers celebrated the market's 30th anniversary with cooking demonstrations, vibrantly colored cupcakes and music by the Baltimore Islanders Steel Drum Band.

Hills Forest Fruit Farm in Kingsville has been a vendor at the market since it started, said Richard Dilworth, who has taken over the market duties from his parents with help from his two sisters.

Coming to the market "is just a habit," he said. "You get to know everybody. They get used to what you grow."

Over the years, Dilworth said, the large market has helped him find buyers for specialty items like currants, white peaches and specialty vegetables. "If you watch people enough and listen enough, you can kind of tell what fits or not," he said.

Sandy Magness of Hickory Chance Farm in Bel Air discovered last year that her hormone- and antibiotic-free beef seems to fit nicely.

"It is something [customers] are definitely looking for now," Magness said, as her daughter rang up plastic-wrapped frozen steaks and hamburgers.

Magness said direct marketing - rather than traditional wholesale arrangements - is an important outlet for family farms seeking to make a living as their costs steadily rise.

Preservation programs for farmland are good, she said, "but you've got to make [the farms] viable. ... Selling directly to customers puts more money in the farmer's pocket, where it belongs."

It is too early in the growing season for some of the most popular farmers' market produce, but asparagus, rhubarb and herbs were plentiful yesterday, along with homemade items such as honey, jam, hot sauce, natural dog treats, seasoned nuts and soap.

Vendors also featured lots of flowers and plants.

Tilly Gurman of Federal Hill and her mother, Magali Gurman of Tampa, Fla., were picking out yellow and burgundy marigolds to dress up the deck of Tilly Gurman's rowhouse. They are expecting company to celebrate the younger woman's graduation from a doctoral program at the Johns Hopkins University.

Tilly Gurman said she likes to get fresh beans and apples at the market and, later in the season, heirloom tomatoes and peaches - things she said do not taste as good when they come from the grocery store.

Debbie Talley of Gwynn Oak said she often seeks out organic growers at the market.

"You want to stay healthy and take care of yourself, but if your food is [full of] pesticides, you defeat the purpose," she said. "I use the market to get a gauge on what is in season. I like to support local businesses, too."

She also praised the chicken taco platter being sold at one stand, saying, "I've never tasted anything like it."

As the morning wore on, lines grew long at vendors selling pastries, fried fish, omelets, and beef and sausage sandwiches.

Peruvian chicken was a hit with Wayne Hachey of Fort Meade, who said he and his wife, Kathy, regularly drive about 20 minutes from the suburbs because "it's better produce. It's fresh. ... We get fresh organics that are not trucked in from California."

Kathy said, "We like to eat. We like to cook. We come and get everything for the week."

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