"There definitely can be some changes made," he said. "It was discussed at our last meeting, and the board understands that there needs to be some adjustments. You have to be able to show continuous growth with each market, and each vendor should be making more money than last year. We shouldn't have people losing money — that's not what the market should be and it's not what we want."
Any decision to close or open a market would have to follow discussions with the community and a serious look at what regions could be better served by a market, Dove said. While Columbia has three markets, for example, areas like North Laurel and Elkridge have none.
"It depends on what works best for each community," Dove said. "People don't want to see markets leave their community, but there's communities that really want a market and you don't want to over-extend yourself."
Farmers don't want to over-extend themselves, either, and getting people to come to the markets "is a difficult battle," Dove said. It's hard to get to the size of markets as the ones in Silver Spring or downtown Baltimore, he said, because "you have to have to be able to get the big farms coming from out-of-county or out-of-state in order to get the crowds," but the farmers won't come unless there's a crowd to sustain their business.
'A certain customer base'
With so many markets and so many farmers, determining which markets are successful or not may be difficult as each farm falls into a different "niche," said Jason Caulder, of Breezy Willow Farms in West Friendship, which has a "solid" turnout at the Saturday market in Glenwood.
"For us, this is the only market we do and it's a small thing that fits into our business, and it's not a struggling market by any means," Caulder said. "We've been doing a CSA (community-supported agriculture, where consumers literally purchase a share of the farm's produce outright) for about 12 years and that works out better for us. When you come to a farmers market, you don't know how much to grow, to pick, even if you do have a ballpark idea. Every farm has a different focus — some focus on their CSAs, or selling to a grocery store or restaurant."
Though each farm has a different focus, Caulder said, all are trying to do the same thing: provide fresh food to the community in whatever way they can.
"We have a certain customer base in Howard County, the people who want to eat healthy and support the markets because they understand the concept of buying local," Dove said. "As the farm business continues to grow and the community wants to support our local agriculture and farms, the markets can sustain themselves."
There are plenty of reasons to support the local farmer's markets, Zimmerman said. The food is fresher — Lewis' peaches, for example, are picked right off the tree the day before a market — and locally grown, which is a boon to the regional farmers.
"The farmers are doing everything in their power to grow the safest, best food," Zimmerman said. "It's so important to buy locally. You know the farmer and you can talk to them about how they grow the food."
That's why Crebs has photos at the ready on his smart phone to show his customers how he grows and harvests his food.
"We like people who walk the foodie walk as well as talk the foodie talk," he said. "I explain how to prepare meals and just try to inform people as much as I can about the food. You'll never see food like what we have, like French filet beans picked yesterday, at Whole Foods. As hard as this job is, it's rewarding because of the people. People always smile when they buy our food, and that's awesome."
Knowing where their food comes from was the chief reason for coming cited by customers at several farmers markets. It's the main reason Phyllis Parker comes to the Glenwood market, as well as a desire to help support the local economy.
"I think that's why most people come," she said. "Besides, it's fresher and better than the grocery stores."
Linda Grimm, also of Glenwood, said the markets are "a great thing" for the county and the local economy.
"The quality of produce you're getting here is so much higher than at the supermarket," she said. "Besides, it's summer time. 'Tis the season."