It all started with a tomato. Paul Carlotta, owner of recently founded Berlin Organics farm and organizer of the West Ocean City Farmers’ Market, grew up working the garden with his Italian grandfather. Together, they grew heirloom tomatoes, the key ingredient in his grandfather’s tomato sauce.
That memory was the push that started Berlin Organics and Carlotta’s mission to bring healthy food to his hometown of Ocean City.
The West Ocean City Farmers’ Market opened last Thursday at Tanger Outlets on Route 50 just west of the bridge with 11 vendors bringing Alaska salmon, local honey, fresh fruits and vegetables, grass-fed lamb, all-natural dairy and other straight-from-the-farm goods to shoppers.
“I grew up here and it’s hard to find good organic or good naturally grown products,” Carlotta said. “That’s why we decided to grow it for ourselves.”
Farmers markets do more than provide a local alternative to traditional grocery stores, said Carol Hudson of Honey Bee Lake Apiary, a Frankford, Del., business that brings honey and honey products such as lip balm, candles and lotion to the market.
“It connects the farmer to the public and helps the public understand where their food is coming from,” she said.
Recipe swaps and growing advice are common conversations overheard across farmers’ market counters.
Angela and Timothy Mizak of West Ocean City used to travel to Salisbury for its farmers’ market and said they’re glad to have one nearby with convenient hours for 9-5 workers.
“It’s better food. It’s not covered in pesticides and waxes,” Angela said.
Henry Bennett, a sixth-generation grower at Bennett Orchards, agreed quality rises when the middleman is cut out.
“We’re picking these and bringing them straight to the consumer,” he said, holding a bucket of his brother’s blueberries. “If you were going to try to buy the same thing at the store, it’d be 10 to 15 days old.”
While farmers’ markets benefit farmers by allowing them to market their products and grow a customer base, the benefits trickle back into the locality, Bennett said.
“We’re local — we’re investing this money back in the economy,” he said.
Carlotta said the idea to bring a farmers’ market to West Ocean City came to him “in the middle of the night.” Six months later, after a slew of approvals by the county and Tanger Outlet managers and seeking top vendors to bring to the market, the West Ocean City Farmers’ Market came to, well, fruition.
He created a Facebook page for the market earlier this year to “test the water and see if there was a demand.” With more than 1,000 “likes,” the page was active before the market ever opened.
Farmers come from between 15 and 100 miles to the West Ocean City market. The same core of 11 vendors — with room for expansion in the future — will present wares from handspun yarn and all-natural dog treats to homemade hummus and artisan breads in front of American Eagle Outfitters every Thursday from 3- 6 p.m. until late August.
Bring a reusable shopping bag and cash to buy what farmers’ market veteran Tracey Bratton, of Wallingford, Pa., called “a little bit of everything.”
For a full list of vendors and other market information, “like” the West Ocean City Farmers’ Market on Facebook or call 410-430-1518.