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Md. Farmers Optimistic as Market Season Set to Start

Farmers market representatives are urging Maryland residents to support the markets for economic, environmental and nutritional reasons. The state has more than 70 markets.
Farmers market representatives are urging Maryland residents to support the markets for economic, environmental and nutritional reasons. The state has more than 70 markets. (2007 Photo By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
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By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2009

Representatives from farmers markets across Maryland gathered in Annapolis last week to exchange information and learn about new marketing strategies in anticipation of the spring selling season.

Maryland has more than 70 farmers markets that connect residents with local merchants and growers. Many farmers said they are hopeful that the push to buy local products will give their businesses a boost at a time when many farms are struggling to stay afloat. And, they said, they are optimistic that the growth they've had in previous years will continue.

"We're hoping that people will still buy local, because when you buy local, you buy fresh," said Matt Corley, who oversees operations at the Bowie Farmers Market. The market will celebrate its 10th anniversary when it opens in May.

Those who manage farmers markets said they are taking a cue from the local economy, tailoring promotions to mirror what's happening in people's lives.

Janna Howley, marketing manager for Freshfarm Markets, said the nonprofit organization is retooling cooking demonstrations to focus on the basics. Freshfarm manages eight markets in the region, including ones in Silver Spring and Dupont Circle.

Previously, the markets sponsored chef demonstrations that featured high-end products, she said. "Now we're looking at how you can use farmers market products to make economical meals."

Officials with the state Department of Agriculture said it's too early in the season to predict how the markets will fare. But Amy G. Crone, a state agricultural marketing specialist, said her department has noticed an uptick in inquiries from people who want to start farmers markets or who are interested in some of the department's promotional programs.

Crone said the movement to encourage people to buy local to reduce their impact on the environment, coupled with recent food scares, could be a boost for farmers markets.

"People really want to reconnect with their farmers, so they know where their food is coming from," Crone said. "It's reassuring to be able to ask farmers how they grow their products."

Crone said the number of farmers markets in Maryland has continued to grow. In 2004, 64 markets were registered with the state Department of Agriculture. Maryland has 72 registered farmers markets this year, and more could open once the season begins, she said.

The Washington region isn't the only one experiencing a market boom. Nationwide, more than 3,000 farmers markets have opened since 1994, the first year the U.S. Department of Agriculture began tracking numbers.

And the markets are big business.


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