This is the first year and time that we have created a farmer’s market. "We," are four producers who met each other last year at a Farmer's Market run by a profiteer. The market board consists of one fruit grower, two vegetable people, one baker and a beef person. We added a fifth producer in order to avoid ties when voting on issues, procedures and so forth.
Born out of frustration and our mistreatment at the benefit of the first market owner, our market took shape. As I said, the peasant farmers rose up against the wealthy landowner and started our own market on public property. For being the first year of the market, we have done some remarkable things. In our State, it usually takes two years to get a Farmer’s Market certified by our Department of Agriculture. Because of our diligence, organizational structure, consistency and promotion the market was granted certified status as of August 16. All of us that organized this market are thrilled, not only does it allow us to accept Women, Infant and Children (WIC) coupons but senior coupons as well. It is a coveted prize because the State markets and advertises certified farmer's markets in all of its publications and we are allowed to submit grant proposals and marketing proposals for funding requests
This journey has not been without some bumpy spots, bad feelings and controversy. When our small group setout finding a place for the new market, we also discussed being a producers only market and what that meant. Knowing what we all were growing and how some of us are still getting various fruit trees going we would not be able to meet all the needs of the buying public. As a board, we decided to allow vendors to bring in local fruits and vegetables sourced by local farms in the area. As long as local farmers supplied those fruits and vegetables brought in, it was allowed. Meaning someone could bring peaches, apples and other things that take years too establish on your farm, from local farms already established. The caveat was that the public would be notified and you had to source the food by farm name and contact. All we wanted was a sign that said these peaches came from X local orchard or farm.
What we started getting was vendors going to vegetable and fruit auctions and bringing them in and selling them at reduced prices, the infamous Huckster that I have mentioned before. When you have a growing year like we have had in Western Maryland it tries your patience, resolve, energy, financial stability, sanity and confidence. We had infestations of the Marmarated Stink Bug and the Rough Stink Bug. We had the greatest number of days over 95 degrees, the longest periods of no rain and some of the warmest temperatures at night that one can not help but question the validity of anti-global warming arguments.
We have been growing tomatoes and peppers organically for twenty-two years. In all that time, we have never faced what we have this year with the bugs, blossom end rot and just plain looks of the tomatoes. We planted four varieties totaling one hundred and twenty plants. We have had four customers for the last five years that have bought bushels of Roma’s for canning. We had to call them and tell them that we would not be able to fill their orders. We pointed them elsewhere but I do not think the people we sent them to have had any better success.
So, it has been a hard growing season, even the big organic people in our area were having problems but, that is farming. Some years are good, some are bad and then some are very bad. We all take that risk going into this business. I have said it before, I heard once that there is no mercy on a farm; I think that there is there is just no mercy for the farmer.
Week after week, we go to the market with the things that have survived the onslaught of nature and try to put on a good face, despite our dismay. When you look across the isle and you see that there are hucksters passing themselves and there wares off as a local farmer a primal instinct emerges from within me and I find that my wife is talking me back off of the nuclear reaction I am about to have. The WIC program specifically states that you can only accept WIC for what you produce, period, yet the same hucksters do not follow that regulation either. Okay, I am Polly-Anna but integrity is part of the program.
We want this to be a producer’s only market because the community deserves to have fresh, healthy, safe, locally sourced food. That is how the market is advertised and that is how the by-laws were written. We are addressing the situation and we will take care of the hucksters. There are plenty of farmer's markets to attend if you are a huckster, not all of the markets are certified and most are not "producers only". It is really too late in the season now but next year the hammer is coming down on those that do not meet the standards that the rest of us locals hold ourselves to.
In the mean time, we continue to encourage each other, discuss the latest news on stink bugs, irrigation techniques and other issues we face as producers. The market foot traffic has increased, our landlord, if you will, has requested that we commit to a long term agreement, coupled that with certified status and we really have nothing to complain about.
Buy Local: If the fruit and vegetables look too perfect then chances are you are dealing with a huckster or are in a grocery store.