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Owings Mills-area farmers markets offer more than produce

Mix of products, like Cathy Shapiro's Java Pops, sure to lure shoppers

By Barbara Pash, bpash@comcast.net

9:06 AM EDT, May 8, 2013

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The idea came to her in a dream. Yes, a dream. Cathy Shapiro dreamed about coffee-flavored ice pops, strange as that sounds, and then the Pikesville resident spent 18 months turning the dream into reality.

This summer, the public can taste the results of her dream, now called Java Ice Pops. Shapiro and her partner, Rebecca Dandy, a professional baker, founded Kismets LLC and are debuting the pops and another product, Beccaroons, named after Dandy.

The gourmet-flavored macaroons will be offered at three farmers markets: Pikesville and Towson, in Baltimore County, and the Carroll County market.

"It's a great way to introduce our product to the public," says Shapiro, who, so far, has presented the goodies at a charity event this winter where, according to her, they received rave reviews.

Shapiro is excited about the coming farmers market season. "I tried to keep the price reasonable," she says of the Java Pops, $3 and up, and Beccaroons, $3 for two, that are hand-made in a commercial kitchen in Carroll County.

"I bought an ice cream cart. I bought a trailer and painted it bright colors," she says. "I'm ready to rock and roll."

Maryland has 131 farmers markets running from May through November with 400 participating farmers and an uncounted number of vendors, such as Shapiro.

In 1991, Maryland had 20 farmers markets; in 2008, 88; and by last year, 128 markets were flourishing.

A recent poll by the state agriculture department showed that 77 percent of Marylanders prefer locally grown food, although these days farmers markets usually offer items well beyond traditional seasonal fruits and vegetables.

In the Baltimore metropolitan area, the Baltimore City farmers market, held Sundays under the Jones Falls Expressway bridge at Holliday and Saratoga Streets, is the mother of all markets. It will attract 10,000 visitors on a nice day.

That's not exactly the case for the three farmers markets in northwest Baltimore County — Pikesville, Randallstown and Greenspring Station. They have different expectations.

The Pikesville Chamber of Commerce manages the Pikesville farmers market and Ayme Lederman, a chamber staffer who jointly runs the market with executive director Jessica Normington, figures it usually only draws 200 to 300 visitors per week.

In an effort to boost attendance in its 13th year, organizers have found a new location and time: Pomona Square, on Reisterstown Road, 2 to 6 p.m. every Tuesday.

"We're highly visible, on the front parking lot," she says. "We're hoping that with the end-of-day hours, people will stop on their way home from work."

In an arrangement common among markets, Pikesville's 10 vendors sign a contract for the season and pay for their spot — $25 per week for two parking slots. Pikesville does not charge a management fee, although other markets may.

Also like other markets, Pikesville seeks a mix of vendors besides farmers. Because of its sizable Jewish clientele, some offerings are unique, like kosher apple cider and kosher honey.

New this year is a kosher lamb bacon vendor. "He found us," Lederman says.

The Liberty Road Business Association runs the five-year-old Randallstown farmers market. This year, the market is located at the Liberty Court Shopping Center, at Old Court and Liberty roads, a move intended to grow attendance beyond the usual 100 visitors per week.

Kelly R. Carter, the association's executive director, meets with the market's three farmers before it opens.

"They decide who's going to offer what, so we get a big variety of produce," says Carter, who also has vendors offering flowers, jewelry and all-natural skin products.

Marge Wildey is the market manager for the Greenspring Station farmers market. Unlike markets initiated by local jurisdictions or chambers of commerce, Wildey can take sole credit for the Greenspring market.

Wildey, owner of Nut Farm and Creamery in Joppa, sold the idea to the landlord to bring traffic to the station's stores.

"I went to him and asked, 'Can we do this?' and he said, 'Sure,'" recalls Wildey, who opened the market in 2009.

Held on Saturdays from 2 to 5 p.m., Wildey oversees 20 vendors in summer, and eight vendors for the winter version. Vendors pay $160 for the summer season. The landlord pays her salary as market manager.

Because farmers markets are weather-dependent, she isn't sure of the number of visitors per week. However, the market has grown under her management, and Wildey actively seeks vendors to fill "holes."

"People come out for certain things," says Wildey, whose vendors include a bread maker, cookie/cupcake baker and apron-maker, her only non-food vendor.

And pickles. The one season Pat Fitzgibbons, a.k.a. "the Pickle Man," missed the Greenspring Station market, "people were upset," she says.

Fitzgibbons is a former food industry salesman who, in his retirement, has found fame, if not fortune, in pickles. He's got kosher dill and half-sour, bread-and-butter and sweet-and-spicy, jalapeno and a half-dozen others, priced at $5 per pint or $9 per quart.

"I like to experiment with flavors," says Fitzgibbons, who last year introduced spicy Old Bay and wasabi pickles that, uncommon as they might sound, turned out to be quite popular.

This summer, besides Greenspring Station, Fitzgibbons also participates at the Towson and University of Maryland Medical Center farmers markets. So popular are his pickles that customers follow him from market to market.

"They haunt me," Fitzgibbons says of his customers. "But it's a good haunt."

Jason Gross is participating in seven markets this summer. Besides Greenspring Station, they include the University of Maryland, Druid Hill and Fells Point markets. Gross, of Hillside Meadow Farm in Glenville, Pa., wakes up at 4 a.m. so he can get to the markets in time for set-up and opening.

"If we're not on the road to a market or at the market we're home getting ready to go to a market," he says of his summer schedule.

Gross sells all-natural Angus beef and free-range eggs. In produce, he starts with strawberries in the spring, ends with potatoes and winter squash in the fall — "and everything in between," he says.

Gross, too, has developed a following although he is modest about it.

"If they want good tomatoes and sweet watermelon and you give them that, they remember you and come back," he says.