No Veggie Garden? Frequent A Farmers' Market

April 16, 2009|By SUSAN REIMER

It feels like I am the only one not planting a vegetable garden this season.

The first lady is. The mayor of Baltimore is. My friend Ron has expanded his vegetable garden, and my friend Jane, whose idea of gardening is walking all 18 holes on a golf course, is lending her yard to someone else so she can plant a vegetable garden.

I scattered some lettuce seeds in a pot on the deck. And I will attempt again this year to grow a tomato plant that does not die prematurely from blight.

But my idea of vegetable gardening is a regular Saturday morning trip to the farmers' market.

My farmers' market, on Riva Road in Annapolis, is one of about 80 in Maryland. It opened a couple of weeks ago, but that's early. Most open about May 1. And my farmers' market will stay open until Thanksgiving. More and more markets are expanding their seasons and some, like the Waverly market in Baltimore, are open year-round.

If I could make an economic pitch in these tough times, it would not be to plant your own vegetable garden to save on food costs. It would be to visit your farmers' market (there is at least one in every county in the state and Baltimore City) and help to keep a family farm from going under. We need them, whether times are good or bad.

Farmers' markets represent a significant source of income for many family farms. According to the state Department of Agriculture's Amy Crone, farmers' markets generated about $7.5 million in sales last year, but that is probably low because many farmers don't report all of their income.

The markets themselves generated an average of $500,000 each in sales last year, reports Crone, but, again, that's probably very low.

And the key is, they know what they are doing, and I don't.

"I'd be dead if I had to live on what I grew," writes Alcestis Oberg in USA Today.

The veteran Texas gardener and author of several gardening books makes the point that gardening isn't cheap, especially if you are just starting and have to invest in all the stuff it takes to garden.

It isn't easy, she says. It can be back-breaking. Crops die. You probably can't grow many of the things you love to eat. For Oberg, they are Bing cherries, Honeycrisp apples and apricots.

Gardening offers more than food. That's why I garden.

But for the food, I go to the farmers' market, where I can plan a week's worth of meals around what is in season and see everybody I haven't seen all winter.

That's the other benefit of the farmers' market: the sense of community and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your fruits and vegetables haven't been on a truck for two weeks, making their way from Costa Rica.

And the farmers' markets I regularly visit (there are three in Annapolis) sell more than tomatoes and silver queen corn.

I can buy goat cheese, fresh lamb, zinnias, pickles, honey, jam, fresh baked breads and French pastries, handmade baskets, crab cakes, peaches to die for and heirloom tomatoes as purple as plums and as yellow as grapefruit.

Do I spend more than the $50 that experts predict the average gardener will spend on seeds and such this year? Yep. No doubt about it. But it is money well-spent, for my family and for the farmers from whom I buy.

I worry that all these first-time vegetable gardeners will put in a lot of time and money and not get near the bounty that has been predicted - something like $1,200 worth of produce for every $50 spent on supplies.

I worry, too, that "recession gardens," as they are being called, will overtake rookie gardeners with weeds, bugs and too many zucchini; the gardeners will get discouraged and never do it again, and there goes the whole American self-sufficiency movement.

No worries.

They can always join me at the farmers' market.

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