(Aug. 9, 2013) The U.S. Department of Agriculture celebrated National Farmer’s Market Week this week, but shoppers can revel in fresh and local food every Thursday at the West Ocean City Farmer’s Market.
Since it opened June 21, the market has seen more shoppers than expected, vendors agreed. It is part of Tanger Thursdays at Tanger Outlets off Route 50, and features 11 booths selling organic herbs and spices, heirloom tomatoes, local honey, homemade dog treats and a host of other locally grown and made products.
“We’re accomplishing what we want to do: We’re getting fresh, local food to people in West Ocean City,” said market manager and owner of Berlin Organics Paul Carlotta, whose heirloom tomatoes have been among shoppers’ favorites since they ripened a few weeks ago.
The number of farmer’s markets in the USDA’s National Farmer’s Market Directory has risen from around 5,000 in 2008 to more than 8,000 this year, according to USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“Farmers markets are an important public face for agriculture and a critical part of our nation’s food system,” Vilsack stated in a press release. “They provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also help fill a growing consumer demand for fresh, healthy foods.”
Carlotta looked for farmers within a 100-mile radius when scouting out vendors to bring to the market.
“Supporting local farmers is really going to help an area,” said Cheryl Wiley of Herbs, Spice and Everything Nice at the market. “It’s supporting your neighbors, essentially.”
And local food means “we’re picking it fresh that morning,” said Henry Bennett of Bennett Orchards in Frankford, Del., which had to upgrade to carrying two truckloads of peaches to the market after one load sold out early.
Markets like the one in West Ocean City cut out the middleman, allowing farmers to sell their products directly to customers. That helps businesses like Bennett’s, which has brought new customers to its pick-your-own farm after they visited the farmer’s market, Bennett said.
“I think everyone’s doing better than expected,” Carlotta said.
The location at the outlets has especially helped bring people to the market, said Kieran Clucas of Alaskawild Seafoods.
“There’s people coming here with disposable income on vacation,” Clucas said, “I expected a good crowd.”
While tourists shop at the market, most patrons have been locals, though, said Joe West, a farm assistant at Salisbury’s Greenbranch Farm. People come to the market to find selection and variety of produce they don’t get in grocery stores, he said.
“Due to consumer demand for local food we are seeing an increase in the diversity of market offerings,” USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Anne Alonzo stated in a press release. “Farmers markets around the country continue to be popular social events for families and communities.”
As the seasons shift, so will the produce available at the market, with more greens like kale, lettuce, broccoli and cabbage coming in the fall. Carlotta plans to keep the market open through late September or early October — whatever the weather permits.
He already has plans in the works to add more vendors to the market next year.
Visit the West Ocean City Farmer’s Market Thursdays from 3-6 p.m. in front of the new J. Crew store at Tanger Outlets on Route 50. Go to www.facebook.com/WestOceanCityFarmersMarket for more information on vendors and market updates.