Market features plants, produce, longtime pals
WEST FRIENDSHIP, Md. — This week is opening week for a number of the region’s farmers’ markets.
Although some of the bigger longstanding markets, such as the Baltimore market under the JFX and the Frederick market at the Great Frederick Fairgrounds, opened in early or mid-April, most of the remaining markets open this week or next.
The last few wait until the Memorial Day weekend to open.
Jim Crebs, owner of Tomatoes, Etc., remembers one of those opening days about 15 years ago. On a rainy Saturday, Crebs found himself commiserating with fellow farmer Greg Thorne, owner of Thorne Farm.
They were both vendors at the Downtown Westminster Farmers Market, which had just been moved by the city across the street to its current location at 27 Railroad Street.
Despite the uncertainty created by the move, both Thorne, whose farm is located just a couple miles east of Westminster, and Crebs, whose farm is located north of Westminster in Silver Run, had decided to return for the new season.
Nevertheless, between the move and the rainy weather, they both faced dismal sales for an opening day. “We found ourselves sitting together in the rain wondering if we were going to come back the next weekend,” recalled Crebs. Fortunately, for their many regular customers, they both did. And, that season began a long term friendship between the two farmers and their respective friends and families.
The two men complement each other. Thorne is the old hand, having been with the Westminster Farmers Market since its opening in 1994.
He’s also the specialist, growing multiple heirloom and modern varieties of just a few types of vegetable plants and produce. “When I started the farmers market, I was the young guy, and now I’m the old guy,” quipped Thorne.
Crebs, a generation younger, began his foray into vegetables with his mother, Rose Crebs, as a hobby about 21 years ago. “I only got serious about it a year or so before I met Greg,” said Crebs.
Thorne started out the farmers market with a few varieties of tomato and over the years expanded to a lot of varieties, particularly heirloom varieties. As the years went by he expanded into basil, eggplant and peppers, particularly hot peppers.
“I’m known as the ‘Hot Pepper Guy’,” he said, “because I’m the only vendor with such a large variety of hot peppers.”
During the season, his customers can buy a mix ‘n match pint of peppers, choosing from his 15 different varieties of hot peppers that range from “mild Anaheim chiles to blazing hot Habaneros.”
Although Thorne has expanded into some “odds and ends like catnip,” he decided many years ago to simply continue to specialize. “If I decided to do everything, I would have to put up another greenhouse,” he explained.
Crebs, in contrast, grows a wide range of modern varieties of vegetable plants and produce. “I’m looking for varieties that really produce well,” explained Crebs. He also “plants salad greens thickly in the fields [outside his 3,000 square foot greenhouse], then cuts it and takes it to market as a salad green mix.”
They also have different approaches when it comes to trying new varieties each season. Thorne admits he’s more willing to go along with his wife’s suggestions.
“Kris does the planning on what seed to buy. She’ll suggest and I’ll say ‘Sure,’” said Thorne. “Oftentimes, I’m probably flying by the seat of my pants, but so far I’ve been lucky and able to do well.”
For Crebs, they’ll usually try something new “if we have enough people asking about a variety,” said Tim Brehm, Crebs’ friend, who, over the last seven years, has been helping out with Tomatoes, Etc.’s weekend markets. “Each year, we usually get one or two things that keep cropping up,” explained Brehm. “A lot of times, it’s been because something’s been featured on the cooking shows.”
Both Thorne and Crebs agree though that the secret to their respective successes comes from the relationships they’ve established over the years with their customers. “Communication and education of customers is key,” said Crebs.
Both don’t hesitate to use extensive signage at their booths to inform their customers. That information not only helps their customers figure out how to grow something, but also, said Crebs, “how to prepare it or what to prepare it with.”
Plus, both pointed out, sharing information about the plants and produce you sell is what encourages your customers to return again and again. “It’s why farmers markets are successful,” explained Crebs. “They give people an opportunity to develop relationships with the farmers they’re buying their food from.”
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925