Duo launch Rodgers Forge barter farmers market

Working under an early Saturday morning sun, Elaine Pollack and Mary Byers touch up a spread of fresh fruits and vegetables on a simple folding table.

The women's wares — freshly cut broccoli, swiss chard, dehydrated oregano and other herbs — are mostly homegrown in the yards of their Rodgers Forge row houses and are the centerpiece of their own neighborhood farmers market, which they began the first week of June.

One item lacking on the table is a cash box. Rodgers Forge residents who wish to participate in the market must haggle and barter for the goods — a loaf of bread for a lettuce head, strawberry syrup for a stalk of goldenrod. The only requirement is that the food must be homemade or homegrown.

"Just walking up and down (the neighborhood) you can see so many people's gardens," Pollack said. "So if you have something I need, — I'll grow your tomatoes and you can give me a cucumber. It's something we can do to bring the whole neighborhood in."

The goal is not money making, Pollack said. The duo, leaders of the Rodgers Forge Garden Club, have long backed the community-supported agriculture model, which focuses solely on buying locally grown foods, and they said they found their farmers market an appropriate method of simultaneously educating and networking with neighbors.

The market, for now just a small operation quartered outside Pollack's home at 210 Murdock Road, is meant to be a hub where residents can share gardening and cooking tips. Rodgers Forge resident Gretchen Canova stopped by to inquire how to prepare a kohlrabi, a low, stout cultivar of cabbage.

"It's nice to learn different things and about feeding your family more healthy," Canova said.

While community-supported agriculture has gained popularity as an alternative to grocery store shopping, Pollack said residents still hold on to misconceptions. She has heard anonymous grumblings — that growing vegetables, coupled with the eventual compost, would attract rats and other unwelcome vermin in the community.

"It's dog poop and trash that bring rats, not vegetables," she said.

But most have been supportive, and Pollack and Byers intend to push their frontyard farmers market through word-of-mouth, culminating in the first Forgefest in August, a craft fair combined with a large-scale version of the market. Pollack said the county has approved the event to be held on public grounds — one in August, another in October — at the Tot Lot, the local playground. Final dates have not been decided.

Residents of the neighborhood who wish to participate in the farmers market can join Pollack and Byers every Saturday at 8 a.m, or can view online the women's gardening blog, the Forge Farm initiative, at theforgefarm.blogspot.com.

Byers said that she revitalized the already-existing website. Two neighborhood bloggers hadn't maintained it since 2010, but now the webpage is a current source for information on upcoming gardening club events, and tips and information about fertilizer, plants and natural pest control.

"There's a lot of exchange of ideas here," Byers said. "I've never lived anywhere like this. I walk outside and I feel like I meet someone new everyday."

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