Outer Spaces

For fresh food, discerning buyers head to local farmers' markets and get more than they bargained for

For fresh food, discerning buyers head to local farmers' markets and get more than they bargained for

June 26, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

The Wednesday afternoon sun beats down upon the outer spaces of Prime Outlets in Hagerstown as four pickup trucks prepare to unveil their bounty for public consumption.

Brilliant red tomatoes packed in beautifully rotund bunches. Sugar peas for less than $2 a pint. Yellow squash. Zucchini. Fresh baked breads, pies and cookies.

And fellowship. At the Washington County Farmers' Market, each sale is accompanied by a smile.

The environment is a far cry from the comparatively sterile chill of the grocer's produce department where the temperature may be more moderate, but just try to find someone to discuss local crops with you.


Selling only what they produce since the Maryland Department of Agriculture established the market in 1991, vendors say they enjoy the interaction with customers they might otherwise go without.

"It's more gratifying than selling it to a wholesaler," says Rich Calimer with Scenic View Orchards in Sabillasville, Md. "I like seeing the same faces each week."

Calimer is a sixth-generation farmer. Though they have a Sabillasville stand, attending farmers markets like the one at Prime Outlets on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings allows for a broader reach.

Scenic View makes the rounds of eight farmers markets from Hagerstown to Rockville, Md., and Gaithersburg, Md.

In Hagerstown, discerning produce shoppers have a choice between the Prime Outlets market and the Saturday morning City Farmers' Market at 25 W. Church St.

A rotating crowd circles each truck at Prime Outlets, huddling under the shade provided by awnings. Pearl Martin makes a steady stream of sales, everything from packs of cookies to peach pies to country ham sandwiches.

Like Calimer, she has been with this market since the beginning. Prime Outlets is the third location for the Maryland Market, producers calling the spot home since 1999 when the market moved from the parking lot of Wal-Mart on Wesel Boulevard.

Behind three folding tables in a wide 'U'-shaped formation, Martin exchanges goods packed in shallow cardboard boxes for cash. Most popular at her stand are raspberry pies when in season.

The latest location brings in a lot of outlet shoppers and employees, but a good deal of business is still made up of regulars who say they enjoy the experience of shopping at an open air market.

"I enjoy meeting all the people," Martin says. "The customers become your friends. And it's very interesting, with a lot of different people going through."

The only trick is negotiating the weather. Heat isn't so bad, but quick-rising thunderstorms sometimes cause her to scramble.

Calimer figures 40 percent of his business comes from the various farmers markets, and appreciates the variety vendors provide. Sure, there are only four today, but the make-up changes from week to week as different items roll in and out of season.

There to sample one farmer's wares, odds are visitors will make the rounds and find something else they like while at the market.

The other thing customers like is the freshness of produce and baked goods, jams and jellies, guaranteed.

"It's either picked that day or the day before," Calimer says. "At stores it could be three to four days old or, if they order too much, it could be a week before you move it."

If you go

Washington County Farmers' Market

Wednesdays through Oct. 30, 4 to 7 p.m.

Saturdays through Sept. 28, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Prime Outlets

Prime Outlets Blvd.


Hagerstown City Farmers' Market

25 W. Church St.


Open year round except holidays.

Saturdays, 5 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

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