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Tapping the right market

July 18, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

David Ridenour has been coming to Hagerstown City Farmers Market for more than 50 years.

The Hagerstown resident came as a boy with his grandmother and mother.

He'd pull a wagon, stand outside the door and ask people if he could help them home with their baskets. Sometimes he'd get a tip - 10 cents or a quarter.

Ridenour, 64, brought his children when they were kids. "Now I'm bringing my granddaughter," he said. "That's five generations."

Hagerstown City Farmers Market has been around for a long time.

It's the oldest continuously operating farmers' market in Maryland and is believed to be among the three oldest in the country, according to information provided by Susie Salvagni, the City of Hagerstown's liaison to the market. The market began operating in August 1783 on the town square at a building in which municipal business was conducted.

By the early 1800s, the market outgrew the location, and land was purchased at the site of today's City Hall - at what is now Franklin and Potomac streets. The new building still was home to the market, but by 1920, the City needed all the space. The Market House was constructed at 25 W. Church St. and opened in 1928. It still is open year-round from 5 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

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Hagerstown City Farmers Market has been home to several generations of vendors and shoppers.

On Saturday, July 10, Dorothy Jones, 78, stood behind her customary table at the market. It's a family thing. She has been a fixture since she was a baby - first with her grandmother, who made pies from scratch, then with her mother, who sold souse and dressed ducks, chickens and rabbits.

"My grandmother was a baker," Jones said, and she has that reputation herself. Jones is known as "the Cookie Lady," selling several homemade treats - chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, walnut, coconut, sugar and snickerdoodles - crispy and not. She also sells produce from her Boonsboro garden and bright bunches of flowers she grows herself.

"When I was a kid, my grandmother gave me the flowers," Jones said, explaining she'd get to keep the 10 cents each bunch would garner. Now her blossoms bring $1.50 per bouquet.

Susie Young bought the Cookie Lady's last flowers on a recent Saturday morning.

"You have to get here before 8 to get flowers," she said, adding that Jones is one of the reasons she comes to the market every week. Young had come as a child with her parents and brought her four kids. Now 19 to 25 years old, they still join her at the market sometimes.

"I like that the vendors know you," Young said.

"Regular customers keep coming back," said Charles Green of Greenhaven farm. He's been coming to market and selling fresh meat, eggs and cheese for more than 60 years. The octogenarian came with his father and took over the operation in 1950. His sons help him.

"He was born here," joked Ray Stottlemyer of Mount Lena, near Greenbrier State Park, who figures he's been coming to City Farmers Market for more than 30 years. "You don't beat (Green's) eggs."

Near Green's corner booth, the aroma of coffee and breakfast on the griddle at Jeff & Debbi's Grill fills the air. The Serigs - Jeff and Debbi - have owned their business for about a year and a half, and Debbi Serig worked for the previous owner for eight years.

There are a dozen constantly occupied stools at the counter and several tables nearby - about 50 seats total. The Serigs arrive about 3:30 a.m. on market day. Most Saturdays, people are waiting for them by 3:45 a.m., Debbi Serig said. You can get a "slice of 'lope" for $1, and they sell hundreds of pork tenderloin sandwiches and a lot of creamed, chipped beef on toast.

Nancy Reamy, who has lived in Hagerstown since 1965, was enjoying some creamed, chipped beef. She's been coming to City Market often for at least five years. She likes the fresh produce and seeing the people. People are friendly. Even people who don't know you say "good morning," she said.

"It's like walking down the street of your hometown," said Jo Clarke of Hagerstown, who's been coming to the market for about six years.

She had paused after being greeted by a "Hi, Sugar," from Elsie Darlene Wyndham, proprietor of Elsie's Herbals, a stall with lace-decked counters offering handcrafted gifts, soap, skin-care products and jewelry.

"I've got to check up on everybody," Clarke said after chatting with Wyndham.

The smell of freshly picked peaches wafted from the Mountain Valley Orchard stall. It's the "Flaming Fury" peaches that are so fragrant, said Sharon Tracey.

Tracey didn't just sell the peaches. She had a story to go with them and shared it with Joann West whose father used to buy peaches from Tracey's grandfather. The early red peaches were named for the red-headed daughters of the man who developed the variety.

West, who's been coming to market for about five years, likes the peaches, the fresh vegetables, the people and the camaraderie.

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