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Victoria Weidler, 21, sets up freshly baked goods for Stone House Cakery's food truck May 6 at a Howard County Farmers Market outside Howard County General Hospital. Weidler is a part-time employee at the cafe in Taneytown.
Victoria Weidler, 21, sets up freshly baked goods for Stone House Cakery's food truck May 6 at a Howard County Farmers Market outside Howard County General Hospital. Weidler is a part-time employee at the cafe in Taneytown. (Staff photo by Andrew Michaels)

After his diagnosis of a heart disease in 2002, Anthony Ruiz, now 56, says his overall physical activity was drastically limited, leaving him with little to do after his condition forced him to retire from his job in the printing industry.

Missing the day-to-day work flow and interaction with people, the Columbia resident said life has taken an unexpected turn as he and his wife, Karen, begin their venture as snow cone makers in their new business, Chill Out Sno Cones. The business was launched May 6 at the Howard County Farmers Market in the parking lot at Howard County General Hospital.

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From early May to late November, eight farmers markets will operate throughout Howard County this year, according to Agricultural Development Manager Kathy Johnson, of the county's Economic Development Authority. The county's Farmers Global Market Association runs four markets, and Johnson said the others function independently by private farmers.

"Basically, it comes down to where the farmers are located and what business they would like to keep in their area," Johnson said. "It's extremely important because you're keeping our local dollars in the county, so it's staying in the local economy."

Market, vendor and customer numbers have steadily grown each year, she said, with substantial growth at the hospital, Miller Branch Library and Oakland Mills Village Center markets.

"The others are newer markets and it takes about three years to really establish a strong market," Johnson added. "Every little community would like to have a farmers market. Unfortunately, we don't have enough farmers to do that, so we're trying to get them as centrally located to a larger community as possible."

Hospital employees Amy Cox and Beverly Bush stopped by the market Friday during their lunch break. While Bush has been coming to the market every week for the past three years, Cox said it was her first time.

"I love it," Cox said. "It might be able to increase some traffic. If somebody is going to grab a bite, you can pick up a bag of potatoes and get some desert, too."

Bush echoed Cox, saying she loves the fresh veggies and desserts as well as the proximity.

"It's the atmosphere. It's just all good," Bush said. "I love the fact that it's so close to work. I'm a farmers market-type of girl."

For some vendors, like Stone House Cakery and Cafe from Taneytown, the markets have been home for quite some time. Owned by husband and wife Dean and Lois Trout, the bakery has participated in countywide farmers markets for about seven years.

Shortly after losing her job during the economy slump in 2008, Lois Trout said they started the business with a booth at the Carroll County Agriculture Center.

"I fell in love with it and said, 'This is what I want to do,'" Trout said. "We did one market, it grew into two markets and now its grown into four markets. Those are the only markets we do now; the Howard County ones."

Although Trout said she stays behind to keep the bakery open to the public, part-time employee Victoria Weidler, 21, joins Dean Trout at the market at the hospital. A variety of baked goods glow in glass cases across their food truck, including pies, small cakes, cupcakes, brownies, cookies and sweet breads.

As the weather warms up, farmers markets are making their spring debut with different markets five days a week throughout Howard County. One market opened to the public on May 6 at Howard County General Hospital.
As the weather warms up, farmers markets are making their spring debut with different markets five days a week throughout Howard County. One market opened to the public on May 6 at Howard County General Hospital. (Staff photo by Andrew Michaels)

Since attending their first farmers market in 2009, Weidler said the year-to-year turnout has been incredible, with residents willing to come out, buy local products and support farmers in the community. Stone House does the same, she said, by purchasing milk from local farmers to use in making their baked goods.

"I think it's pretty awesome because nothing here is corporate. It's pretty much from the community," Weidler said. "And it's not like it's overpriced. We sell a box of homemade cupcakes for $9 right here. Or you can go to the grocery store and get factory-made cupcakes for about the same price."

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"I think the markets are absolutely wonderful," Lois Trout said. "It's a great way to get the small business name out because we also do catering and wedding and specialty birthday cakes as well. You just make connections and everyone all seems like a big part of the family."

With rain falling outside, Anthony and Karen Ruiz worked inside their small yellow trailer, decorated with a colored Hawaiian floral pattern. More than 40 flavors, including diet flavors, are lined up in rows above and below the kitchen sink, with ice cream, candies, chips and soft drinks also available for purchase.

Karen Ruiz said she purchased the trailer in July from a family in Grasonville who had operated the business from their home, using the funds for their children's college education. Once the kids grew up and graduated, she said the family decided to sell.

"I found it on Craigslist," she said. "We had been looking for something to do together."

With more experience and a modest turnout under their belt, the Karen and Anthony Ruiz said they look forward to the summer weather when everyone is searching for a snow cone.

"We're excited," Karen Ruiz said Friday. "This is the first big event. And I'm sure it will be better the first couple of weeks."

Find a market

Howard County's ongoing farmers markets include: Howard County Miller Branch Library, Wednesdays from 2 to 6 p.m.; Howard County East Columbia Branch Library, Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m.; Howard County General Hospital, Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Maple Lawn Center, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Oakland Mills Village Center, Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Ellicott City Old Town Market and Glenwood Community Farmers Market are expected to begin in May, both held Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The River Hill Farmers Market will celebrate its grand opening in Clarksville Saturday, May 14 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., featuring a special cooking demonstration by PBS TV host John Shields.

For more information, go to the Howard County Economic Development Authority website

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