Summer officially kicked off last Monday and, with that, the Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island farmers’ markets got under way. Each week this summer, through early September, farmers, growers and other local providers will bring their wares to the much-anticipated markets, providing shoppers with freshness and taste that can be hard to find in the produce section of the grocery store.
Each Sunday, for 11 weeks, starting June 27, the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market will showcase some of the area’s finest produce and goods, in the parking lot at the corner of Garfield Parkway and Pennsylvania Avenue, from 8 a.m. until noon.
Paul Parsons, whose is continuing his family’s tradition, is eager for the new market season in Bethany Beach.
“These markets provide us with a great outlet to reach out customers,” he said. “It’s unreal how many people come out to Bethany every Sunday. It’s well-organized, and it helps consumers connect directly with the farmers.”
A relatively dry season has plagued area farmers, but Parsons isn’t discouraged.
“It’s been hot and dry,” he said, “but we’re not complaining. It’s not tough to irrigate the fields, and it’s definitely easier to farm in dry fields than ones that are too wet.”
This year, his family’s farm has been busy planting acres and acres of pumpkins, which will be ready for the autumn season. For the summer, squash, zucchini, cucumbers and eggplant will all be ready for the farmers’ market. In the weeks to come, he noted, tomatoes will get a little more ripe, and melons will be ready to pick.
“With our farm,” he said, “we typically stay small, but we do our best with the produce that we grow.”
They’re rounding out yet another successful season with red and black raspberries, and by next year, they hope to introduce another berry to the mix.
“We planted blueberries last year,” he said, “but they need a few seasons before they’re fully ready to start picking.”
When they’re not pushing the produce at the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market, you can be sure the Parsons are keeping busy. While their main stand sits on Route 20, along Armory Road in Dagsboro, they have several other locations ready to go this season: across from Royal Farms on Route 113 in Dagsboro, and downtown, with a new location between the Dagsboro Diner and the Clayton Theater.
If you miss their selection on Sunday at the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market, or simply want to stock up on some more, check these locations out, as they are open every day. Their Armory Road location, just a mile down the road from Indian River High School, is also open every day, from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Throughout the summer months, they also hold a children’s cooking class at their stand on Armory Road, complete with their own produce. Epicurean Kids, offered every other Wednesday throughout the summer, allows children learn about local farming and nutrition.
“They get a hay ride out to the fields,” said Parsons, “and they get to pick their produce and then they learn how to prepare a meal with that food. The kids love it, and classes fill up pretty quickly.” (Visit www.epicureankids.com for more information about the classes.)
“Our family’s been running this business for 20 years now, and it’s nice to have something like this to give back to the community,” Parsons noted.
The Johnson family farm is among a handful burning the candle at both ends, providing produce and harvested goods at both the Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island farmers’ markets, as well as at their own farm market.
The Fenwick Island Farmers’ Market kicked off June 28, and will run every Monday and Friday, from 8 a.m. until noon, through the first week of September. Rebecca Johnson noted that her farm has had a successful year, yielding similar crops as the Parsons’ farm, with sweet corn, peppers, string beans, beets and scallions, as well.
“The markets really help to draw a lot of customers to the farmers,” she said. “Lately, people have gotten more into the taste of the produce, and they realize the quality of goods you can find at these markets. Also, you’re getting out and visiting the farmers who bring this stuff to you. I think people enjoy seeing where their food comes from. It gives them security.”
The Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market this summer will again present cooking demonstrations by area chefs, who will find their ingredients at different stands on the morning of the markets. Fenwick Island hopes to do the same in upcoming seasons.
“These cooking demos are a great part of the market,” said Johnson. “Sometimes, people see produce that they don’t know how to prepare. Our pattypan squash [or sunburst squash], is one of our best crops, but not everyone knows what to do with it. Some chefs prepare it similar to mashed potatoes, and it can help cut down on the carbohydrates, too. The key is not just shopping at the markets, but knowing how to find recipes. The demonstrations do a phenomenal job with that.”
A wide selection is another one of the selling points for these markets, Johnson added.
“Just having variety is a great thing,” she said. “It becomes a one-stop shop for everything. You can get your fruits, vegetables, breads, eggs and cheese, and you know it’s all fresh, and that’s what’s going to make it taste better.”
The Johnsons’ seventh-generation farm, which found success with grains, pigs and chickens, only started focusing on produce in 2000, but they have grown to become one of the favorites at the markets.