First harvest

The Baltimore Farmers’ Market opens for the season Sunday with new offerings, including goat meat and bicycle-powered smoothies

April 28, 2010|By Laura Vozzella, The Baltimore Sun

Jeanne Dietz-Band raises goats on a farm that looks like it's posing for a postcard, all rolling hills and weathered barns and happily grazing livestock.

She and her husband moved from the Washington suburbs to Washington County 10 years ago to escape the rat race as their three sons approached their teen years. Dietz-Band, who has a doctorate in molecular biology and genetics, chucked her career in biotech and became a stay-at-home goatherd.

"We were doing the suburban thing, working long hours," said Dietz-Band, whose husband continues to work as an electrical design engineer for the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. "Our life was crazy hectic. We made a lifestyle decision."

Now, a decade into it, this quaint farming venture is about to take her someplace decidedly less bucolic: a parking lot under a highway in downtown Baltimore.

When the Baltimore Farmers' Market opens for the season Sunday, Dietz-Band will be there as a vendor, selling goat meat, goat sausages and goat's milk soaps.

She is one of several newcomers who will be in the mix this year as the market opens for its 33rd season.

Among the others will be a vendor selling vegan waffles and desserts. Another will offer exotic Rice Krispie treats made with kosher beef-based gelatin and topped with handmade caramel, dark Belgian chocolate, or dried cranberries and toasted pumpkin seeds. The restaurant Desert Cafe will sell unique flavors of hummus. More new booths will offer granola, cupcakes, jams and salsa.

There's even a new vendor who's peddling pedaling. Wheely Good Smoothies will sell fruit drinks made in bicycle-powered blenders. (The wheels drive a shaft that drives the blender.)

In all, there will be 12 new farmers and concessionaires participating in Maryland's largest producers-only market, which is open every Sunday through Dec. 19 from 7 a.m. until sell out (usually about noon). That brings to 87 the number of vendors offering produce, meats, poultry, seafood, prepared Asian, Caribbean, Indian and Latin foods, baked goods, honey, preserves, herbs and other plants.

Some of the farmers will not appear right away because it's still too early for their crops. The market, located on Saratoga Street between Holliday and Gay streets, should be in full swing by the end of June, according to the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts, which puts it on.

Last year the market expanded to offer craft vendors, averaging about 10 a week selling home decor items, fashion accessories and art. This year, the number of craft vendors is expected to average twice that. Some new food concessionaires will be located near the crafters, including bike-smoothie guy Natan Lawson.

Lawson is the 21-year-old entrepreneur behind Wheely Good Smoothies. He says the pedal-powered approach is not just a sideshow. Nor is it a tribute to the ill-fated bicycle-powered haircutting machine created by the crackpot inventor in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," a movie Lawson has no memory of ever seeing.

"It's meant to get your attention," he said of the bike bit. "But if the smoothies weren't good, it would just be all show."

Lawson did a lot of research before launching the business.

"I bought all the smoothie recipe books on Amazon," he said. "I went through them all."

He wound up developing his own flavors, which he tested on neighbors and friends.

Among the blends he'll be offering: Strawberry Spice, which combines OJ, strawberries and basil; The Fuzz, which has two whole peaches, organic lemonade and a little chipotle spice; and Blueberries and Cream, made with just that, plus some banana and apple juice.

The price for each 16-ounce smoothie is $5.50, or $5 for customers who do the pedaling themselves. He has three bikes hooked up to blenders, two for adults, one for kids.

Maybe a little more than half of all customers choose to pedal. At least that was his experience when he tried out the concept at Artscape last year. For Lawson, it meant so much cycling that even fruit drinks couldn't sustain the smoothie guy on a busy day.

"I was just chugging Ensure — pedaling for 12 hours a day and not having time to eat lunch," he said of his Artscape debut. (Lawson went on to sell the smoothies at Waverly Farmers' Market last summer. He'll return to that market in June.)

As Lawson tries to get his footing at the downtown market, so will that goat farmer from Washington County.

Dietz-Band supplements her goats' grazing with a bit of locally grown barley and soy. She does not give the animals hormones or routine antibiotics. She makes her soap with goats' milk, vegetable oils and herbs. She does not make goat cheese. (She already has three friends in that line of work and figured they didn't need any more competition.)

Now, after a decade spent carefully building her herd and developing her soaps, she'll find out if the market is ready for them.

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