Crowds throng to season's first farmers' market

Vendors 'pleasantly surprised' by attendance at earliest opening yet

April 03, 2011|By Richard Gorelick, The Baltimore Sun

There were no strawberries or asparagus — yet — but there were cases of kale at the Baltimore Farmers' Market & Bazaar on Sunday, and crates and crates of collard greens. And plenty of people.

Crowds thronged to the marketplace under the Jones Falls Expressway to see what Maryland's bounty looked like in early April, the market's earliest opening by a full month.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who dropped by the market on her way to church, was among the crowd's respectable but not record opening-day numbers. For the most part, marketgoers seemed forgiving of the gaps in the oval-shaped circuit of vendor stalls and resigned to the absence of spring's more exciting produce.

Farmer Robert Stoecker, a veteran of the market dating to when it was held at downtown's Market Place, said he was "pleasantly surprised by the crowd for how cool it is." Loading up on the kale at Stoecker's stall, Federal Hill resident Whitney Sale said she wasn't disappointed by the day's offerings: "I think they set expectations appropriately."

Not everyone is so in tune with the season, or with the concept of a growers-only market. Jennifer Slingluff of Gardener's Gourmet said that, yes, there were a few people asking for tomatoes. "But we have people asking us for limes, too," she added.

Most people in the crowd just seemed happy to be outside and to sample and buy the market's season-proof offerings, like the pit beef sandwiches from Beef Barrons, a market veteran, or the macaroni and cheese from sophomore-year vendor Banksy's Cafe.

Some visitors made a point of meeting the market's new vendors, most of whom had been assigned spaces in the western lot. KCC Farms is new this year, selling quail eggs and French heritage chickens. Kenny Lookingbill was staffing that table for his boss, who was feeding chickens back at the farm in Forest Hill in Harford County. Lookingbill just retired after 35 years as a meatcutter at Giant.

"We sold out of quail eggs early," Lookingbill said, "and we did OK with the chickens, too. Now that people know they're here, they'll come back for them."

Along with its earlier opening date, the market's other innovation this year is the closing of the stretch of Holliday Street that separates the east and west markets. Gilmore was pleased with what he saw. "It really seems to add to the market's ambience," he said, "and its safety."

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