OF COURSE, DIANE MARIANOS jokes, the buxom farm girl would have been the perfect logo for the new Highlandtown farmers' market. But, local tastes notwithstanding, she settles for the alternative -- Painter Grant Wood's American Gothic farm couple, superimposed in front of the Highlandtown clock tower, with the theme: "We're bringing the farm to Highlandtown."
At a recent meeting in a drab walk-up office on Eastern Avenue, Marianos, the proprietor of a local beauty salon and coordinator of the Highlandtown Merchants Association, hashes out the logo and other final market details with Pat McMillan, a Maryland Department of Agriculture marketing specialist, and Maryland Cooperative Extension Service agent Jon Traunfeld. Also in attendance are youth worker Bob Hooey and Frank Littles, merchant association maintenance man.
Blond, tough, with fingernails blooming fuchsia, Marianos, 42, is 100 percent Highlandtown and proud of it. As she tells the story, the birth of the Highlandtown farmers' market, which opens tomorrow at 9 a.m. at 3700 Fleet St., came about after a chance meeting with local activist John Cain. During their conversation, they decided such a market would be "great for the community, a boost for the business district and something everyone could participate in for the whole family." And, it was "something that wasn't commercial."
In the past 10 years, the number of farmers' markets has doubled in the state, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The collective need for a community to convene someplace other than a mall, the desire for fresh produce, and the spectacle of gregarious vendors, their colorful wares, babies gumming apples, and a rainbow coalition of customers, have all contributed to the popularity of seasonal markets.
Drawing from local neighborhoods and beyond, tailgate markets where farmers back into a lot and open their truck for business -- as well as permanent markets, have become a natural ritual for thousands of Marylanders.
Bringing the farm to Highlandtown, Marianos has discovered, is a complex enterprise. Rules governing the market had to be determined; unlike most markets, it will feature only products produced by the farmers themselves. Permits, vendors, publicity, the participation of local non-profit groups, special events, merchant discount coupon books, sidewalk sales, the July grand opening, appointment of local market masters to manage the market were just a few of the things that also had to be addressed.
But the market fell quickly into place. For one, it made sense. East Baltimore's dense population -- 70,000 within the two-mile radius of Highlandtown and Canton -- made the community an ideal location for a farmers' market.
In addition, existing grocery stores did not provide members of East Baltimore's diverse ethnic community with the fresh produce they often drove a long distance for, Marianos says. "Greeks use nothing but fresh; they don't buy anything in a can . . . A lot people were excited they won't have to go far. They will be able to walk or drive a short distance" to the new market.
The market would also belong to the community. "People in this area have a thing about, 'It's mine.' They think they're special," Marianos says, speaking for herself and all East Baltimoreans.
At the meeting, the list of participating farmers and bakers ifinalized. A third bakery that has signed on is cause for concern. McMillan is not worried. "Bakeries are a big draw to a market," he says.
"What fish man we gonna have, hon?" Marianos asks McMillan. This is undecided. He tells of one possibility, a man who sells his wares from a tank of live trout. And of another who is real "excited about getting involved with tailgate markets."
Marianos is concerned about no-show farmers, and the ragged look it could give the market. Set up a policy among participants, McMillan recommends: "If you're not going to be here, call the person next to you."
It is also important to arrange vendors creatively, so that "we don't have a bunch of fruit growers staring at each other across the aisle," McMillan says.
And, "don't feel like you've got to do everything at the opening," he says. "If it evolves, you're gonna have people knocking on your door."
The market is scheduled to open at 9 a.m., a little later than others around town. "A lot of people work all night," Marianos explains.
McMillan sees tailgate markets as a way to keep farming alive in a time when cultivated acres are diminishing swiftly. The farmers' markets proliferating in Maryland are "helping people get their foot in the door: those who are new, who want to get into agriculture. And it's helping people who have been in farming for years, who now see a need to diversify and bring in some new revenues," he says.
Chris Cavey is one of the participating tailgate farmers who will sell his produce in Highlandtown. Specializing in peppers, winter squash and vegetable "oddities" such as white eggplants, Cavey's Cultivations also sells at the Towson and Gardenville markets. "Tailgating is actually a hobby that got humongously out of control," says Cavey, owner of the Hampstead Insurance Co. With the help of wife Cathy and loyal farm hands Jason and Dan Edris, Cavey, 34, reaps an intensive harvest on five acres of rented land.
In comparison to the wholesale business, "tailgating is bringing me a greater amount of income, because I'm selling retail, rather than take a wholesale rate for it. If I was wholesaling, I wouldn't be as diverse. I would make more money per crop, but not more money total.
"I think it's a great outlet," Cavey says. "The extension service and communities who join in on this . . . have done the work for the farmer . . . [They say,] 'you can rent this spot for 17 weeks and we'll bring the people to you. Don't worry about access, marketing strategy, zoning.'"
Hooey, 41, is one of two market masters who will manage thHighlandtown Farmers' Market. Hooey also works with the SET (Southeast Teens) for Success program, which introduces East Baltimore youth to the business world.
Hooey and his charges will sell baked goods from Haussner's Bakery at the farmers' market. He hopes the business will grow to include a lunch delivery service for local merchants.
Since he arrived in Baltimore six months ago, Hooey has discovered that the young people he works with "have no concept of what the work market is all about. They're not ready for employment. One of the best ways to get them ready is to give them employment."
For Hooey, the farmers' market serves a purpose that transcends fresh produce and watermelon eating contests and human spectacle. It is a way of putting boys and girls on a sound track. And, he says, "If you save one, you save a lot."
Here are the farmers' markets in Baltimore and surrounding counties:
Highlandtown Farmers' Market, 3700 Fleet St., 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday, June 15-Nov. 2.
Howard Park Farmers' Market, 3500 block of Woodbine Avenue 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. Saturday, June 15-Dec. 21.
Baltimore's Farmers' Market, Holiday and Saratoga streets, a.m. until sold out (or noon) Sunday, June 23-Dec. 22.
Gardenville Farmers' Market, 4400 Frankford Ave., 7:30 a.m. unti noon Saturday, June 29-Nov. 23.
Irvington Farmers' Market, 4021 Frederick Ave., 6 a.m. until noo Saturday, June 8-Dec. 21.
32nd Street Market, 400 block E. 32nd St., 7 a.m. until noo Saturday.
ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY
Annapolis Farmers' Market, Calvert Street in front of Arundel Center, 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Thursday, June 27-Oct. 31.
Anne Arundel County Farmers' Market, Riva Road at Harry S Truman Parkway, 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, April 16-Nov. 30
Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers' Market, Annapolis Harbour Center Rt. 2 at Patuxent Blvd., 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Thursday., 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday.
Dundalk Village Farmers' Market, Dundalk, Commerce Street and Shopping Place, 9 a.m. until noon Saturday, July 13-Oct. 26.
Essex Farmers' Market 512 Eastern Blvd., 10 a.m. until 2 p.m Tuesday, June 18-Oct. 29.
Owings Mills Farmers' Market, Owings Mills New Town Visitor Center, 3 p.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 25-Oct. 29.
Towson Farmers' Market, Allegheny Avenue between Washington and York roads, 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Thursday, June 27-Oct. 31.
Amish Farmers' Market, Dundalk, North Point Plaza, 10 a.m. unti 7 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday.
Carroll County Farmers' Market, Westminster, Smith Avenue at the Westminster Ag Center, 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. Saturday, June 22-Sept. 7. (Christmas market open 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. Nov. 2 until Dec. 14.)
South Carroll Farmers' Market, Eldersburg, W. Hemlock Drive, next to library, 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. Wednesday, 11 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Sunday. June 26-Oct. 20.
Bel Air Saturday Farmers' Market, Bel Air: Bond and Thomas streets, 7:30 a.m. until noon Saturday, May 4-Nov. 9.