Farmers market manners

I grew up in a household of four boys and multiple dogs. We had a basset hound with impressive leash pulling power who, in pursuit of a neighborhood cat, once yanked my little brother through a cactus patch. We had a golden Labrador, a beautiful bird dog, who, when out for a walk, would suddenly stiffen and "point" at doves in distant driveways. We had a spirited Irish wolfhound whom one of my brothers brought home, along with a new girlfriend. My mother disapproved of both the girl and the hound, and they eventually moved on.

While I don't own a dog now, I consider myself dog-friendly. Yet when I see dogs at local farmers' markets, as I did last weekend, I get annoyed. A farmers' market, in my view, is not an appropriate place to take a dog. I wouldn't take a dog into a supermarket — a space where food is being prepared and sold — so why take it to a farmers' market where the same actives occur? My wife, who is not dog-friendly, says this is not a big deal. She tells me I should take a deep breath and let it go. But I can't.

I think that in addition to human health and hygiene considerations, you have to look at the well-being of the dog. Markets can be crowded, jostling places, full of strangers and sudden movements that can startle or threaten a dog. There have been a few cases of dog bites in Baltimore farmers' markets. Then there is the fact of animal life known as doing their business. When they gotta go, they gotta go, and few customers or vendors are enthralled when a dog relieves himself near a stand selling food.

Researching this issue, I learned that while Maryland health regulations prohibit live animals from being taken into grocery stores and restaurants, there is no specific language applying to open-air farmers' markets. That is because grocery stores, being brick-and-mortar operations, are categorized as "food service facilities," while farmers' markets are not. A state regulation does outlaw birds and live animals — with the exception of service dogs controlled by disabled individuals — from being inside a food service facility. In the case of farmers' markets, city health officials interpret "facility" to mean the food vendors' area. To reduce the risk the risk of biting incidents and injuries from people tripping over leashes in the crowded conditions, officials in Baltimore encourage citizens to keep their pets out of farmers' markets.

There are signs posted at the entrances to the Sunday morning market in downtown Baltimore saying no dogs, but some canines come in anyway. When this occurs, Carole Simon, the market manager, approaches the dog owners and asks them to take their pets outside of the market. Most of the offenders are newcomers to the market, Ms. Simon tells me, unaware of the prohibition. A few, she says, are recalcitrant and require a visit from a police officer assigned to the market.

It is a similar story at the Saturday farmers' market in Waverly, says Vernon Rey, a market manager. There, the crowds are large, the aisles narrow and pets are not welcome. Yet, Mr. Rey says, the parade of pets never ceases, nor do the requests from market managers to kindly remove the animals. "We had an incident where a child was nipped by a dog," Mr. Rey tells me. "It really scared us. The cure is so simple: Just leaves your pets at home. "

In lieu of laws, I think what is needed to address this issue is an ethic spelling out farmers' market manners.

My first one would be: Don't take pets to a farmers' market, especially a crowded one. I am told that in the Bel Air farmers' market, dogs have not only been welcome but celebrated with a Doggie Dress Up Day. OK, they might have more room and a tradition of living with animals in Harford County. Perhaps these guidelines should only apply to markets inside the Beltway.

The essential point is to have consideration for others. For that reason, I would also ban bicycles from the market aisles. I have been known to ride an ancient Raleigh, one that might even be older than I am, to the Sunday market. But unlike some cyclists, I don't wheel l my bike down the aisle while picking out eggplant. Instead, I chain my bike to a post, which is also what I would like to do to that guy at the market who ran over my foot with his 10-speed.

As for strollers, I am not against them but implore their drivers to refrain from linking up with other stroller operators and forming roadblocks in front of the bean line.

Some market-goers, like a colleague of mine who patronizes the Wednesday afternoon market at the Timonium fairgrounds, like to zip around. My colleague thinks marketgoers who engage in long conversations with the farmers about this year's crop while other customers are waiting to be served should be castigated. As a chatter-upper of farmers, I consider myself castigated.

But I digress. Back to the dogs. Don't bring up the example of the French. Yes, they take their dogs everywhere, including farmers' markets. But as I learned this summer, the French merchants don't allow their customers to touch the goods. Customers point, and proprietors gather. The French love their dogs, but they make a distinction between hands that were just licked by a poodle and those that pick up the peaches.

—Rob Kasper

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