Thanksgiving shoppers mob late-season farmers' market

Holiday rush lifts sales; earlier opening planned in 2011

  • At the farmers’ market under the JFX Sunday, Sheila Snow-Croft of Baltimore sniffs a pumpkin before buying it from Billy Caulk of Pine Grove Farm, on the Eastern Shore.
At the farmers’ market under the JFX Sunday, Sheila Snow-Croft… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
November 22, 2010|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

With Thanksgiving looming, Kim Thomas and her sister Zina went shopping Sunday for feast fixings where they always go this time of year — under the Jones Falls Expressway.

Expecting upward of 20 family members to visit their East Baltimore home on Thursday, the pair made their annual pre-holiday run to the Baltimore Farmers' Market and Bazaar under the JFX, and, by late morning, had bought so many goodies they couldn't hold them all.

Zina Thomas, 45, clutched a bag of onions. Piled at her feet were two huge plastic bags stuffed with kale, three jugs of apple cider and a pumpkin for making into pie.

Though the produce isn't quite as varied in late fall as it is in the peak of summer, the Sunday before Thanksgiving is typically the busiest day of the year for the city-run market. This Sunday seemed to be no exception. Cars lined up on Guilford Avenue as shoppers jockeyed for parking, and most vendors were doing a brisk business.

"This is the market's equivalent of Black Friday," said Bucky Edgett, who was selling colorful wreaths, festooned with berries and nuts from his Full Circle Wreaths in Glenwood, Pa.

Now in its 33rd year, the Baltimore farmers' market boasts more than 80 vendors peddling fresh produce, meat and fish, baked goods, flowers and crafts — not to mention hot, ready-to-eat food. The market typically runs each Sunday from spring into winter. City officials estimate the market draws more than 200,000 patrons a year, with attendance topping 8,000 on some peak days.

"We're a one-stop shopping location," said Carole Simon, who manages the market for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

Lars Turner and Bree Murphy could attest to that. They came to pick up eggs, broccoli, collard greens, carrots and onions — and some fresh meat.

"I had a hankering for breakfast sausage," explained Turner, 32, of South Baltimore. He and Murphy said they were relative newcomers to the market, having moved to Baltimore recently from Texas.

"There's other markets out there, but this is the largest," said Murphy, 32. The couple said they especially savored the freshness of the produce, since they'd grown their own before moving here.

Inhel Rekik, another relative newcomer, bought some late-season tomatoes from Howard County farmer John Roswell. She'd already picked up some bison meat and fresh, nonhomogenized milk that she intended to make into cheese.

"I love markets," said the 31-year-old Federal Hill resident. She said she's from Tunisia, where her parents regularly shopped at open-air markets.

William Parks, 43, of Randallstown, was doing more browsing than buying, though he'd already acquired a hefty bag of collard greens. Parks said it was his first visit to the market, though he'd heard plenty about it from his family. He said he planned to fix the greens with smoked turkey for Thanksgiving.

Some vendors were sold out well before noon, when the market starts to wind down. Charles Stoecker said he had a run on collard greens and kale grown at his family's White Hall farm.

"People are shopping with a purpose today," agreed Andrew Maniscalco, 44, who had just five heads of Boston lettuce left from the batch of produce he brought over from his Chesapeake Greenhouse in Sudlersville.

Truck Patch Farms brought in a batch of turkeys especially for Thanksgiving, but customers made a run on one of the New Windsor farm's regular market offerings instead.

"We sell out of bacon every day," said saleswoman Valerie Oulton.

Some vendors said the rush of customers Sunday was a welcome lift because business had dropped off a bit after summer.

"It's been slower than in years past," said Matthew Newcomer of Mount Vernon, who was tending the Gardner's Gourmet booth. "It's been a nice pickup."

Still, not everyone was doing a booming business. Despite having a prime spot by the market's entrance, the Christmas wreath table was getting more looks than buyers.

But Edgett wasn't fazed. "We've had a lot of interest, but it's a little early to be selling fresh Christmas wreaths," he said. Sporting a red stocking cap and calling himself "Santa's helper," he cheerily greeted customers and said he expected sales to pick up in the market's three remaining weekends. The last day of the year is Dec. 19.

Fall lull notwithstanding, business overall has been good enough that the market plans to open the first Sunday in April next year — a full month earlier than this year, according to Simon.

"It's a force of nature," gushed Blake Wollman, owner of the Desert Cafe restaurant in Mount Washington, as he served a crush of customers sampling flavored hummus from his booth. "This market, there's nothing like it."

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