First day fruitful for farmers' market

The opening day of the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market was just peachy for the local farmers, farm families and food producers who came out to sell their produces directly to the public on Sunday, July 1.

Special to the Coastal Point • JESSE PRYOR: A steady crowd moved in and out of the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market.Special to the Coastal Point • JESSE PRYOR
A steady crowd moved in and out of the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market.

If anything, the morning was a little too fruitful in terms of customers, sending some away disappointed when they discovered that the produce, bread and plants had mostly sold out within an hour or two.

Market coordinator Carrie Bennett — one of the family of farmers behind Bennett Orchards and their celebrated peaches — said customers had gathered at the market well before the scheduled 8 a.m. opening time and were lined up, ready to buy at 8 a.m.

“At 7:30, people were here and wanted to buy,” said John Himmelberg, president of the Bethany Beach Landowners Association and one of the others behind getting the market started this inaugural year. “But we said they’d have to wait until 8 o’clock. We have to be fair,” he emphasized.

Nearly all of the eager customers stuck around until 8 a.m., at which time they pounced on selections ranging from fruit and vegetables to honey, organic herbs and fresh bread.

“We had a mad rush,” described farmer Keith Johnson, whose family brought their vegetables and plants to sell at the market. “We had 15 people lined up at each vendor.”

“We were sold out by 9 a.m.,” Bennett said of her family’s peaches, which were gobbled up by the bushel by eager fruit purchasers. “We’ll have more next week,” she emphasized, noting that it is still early in peach season.

Special to the Coastal Point • JESSE PRYOR: As expected, the peaches from Bennett’s Orchards were a huge hit during the debut of the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market on Sunday, July 1.Special to the Coastal Point • JESSE PRYOR
As expected, the peaches from Bennett’s Orchards were a huge hit during the debut of the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market on Sunday, July 1.

In the Johnsons’ case, at least, the family had more supply upon which to draw, and a quick trip back to their farm and produce stand on Route 20 replenished the supply enough to keep them selling plants, squash and a few other selections through 10:30 a.m. By that time, well before the market’s noon closing time, many of the other vendors had already packed up their empty displays and gone home to continue work on their farms and in their kitchens with next week’s crowd in mind.

“I arrived at 10 a.m. to work, and there was no work,” said Bethany Beach resident and market volunteer Margaret Young, who marveled at the success of the first-ever farmers’ market in the town with a tone of pleased shock that many involved in the effort mirrored on Sunday.

For the Johnsons, their tomatoes had gone early. The free-range guinea eggs sold by Gumboro’s Bill Stevenson were also a quick sell-out, leaving him to show off part of his flock of the birds and talk with would-be buyers who will have to wait until July 8 for their next chance to buy eggs at the market.

Bennett said the market’s bread vendor had been up all night baking but still ran out of his sourdough loafs and baguettes within an hour. She said he hoped to expand the sourdough production to try to keep up with the market’s demand.

“We’ll have more tomatoes next week,” Johnson promised, “maybe some sweet corn.”

Bennett said market organizers were also expecting to be joined by the Magee family on July 8, to expand the fruit offerings with their strawberries, plus a variety of vegetables. The Parsons family’s watermelons and cantaloupes are also on the list, along with even more vegetables.

There was no question among market organizers or vendors, or their customers, on Sunday that the new market was a smash hit. While organized late in the season, under a push from Bennett and the Delaware Department of Agriculture, the market netted nearly a dozen vendors who were eager participants, along with townsfolk who volunteered and help get the effort moving.

Bennett said the first day of the market already gives the group a head start for future years, proving that the market can be successful and giving them clout with local and state officials for possible future enhancements, such as a longer season, additional vendors and space.

“This could never have happened if the public hadn’t said, ‘We want it. This is a great idea,’” Bennett emphasized Sunday.

Indeed, the turnout on July 1 proved that the area is ripe for supplies of fresh produce and other local food products. Market vendors will be busy this week and for the coming seven Sundays, through Aug. 19, knowing that if you grow it, they will come.