A harsh and brutal winter has yielded to a welcome spring and a sunny summer, and local farmers and growers have been at the benefiting end of it all. Later this month, they will come together for another summer of farmers’ markets, offering the fruits (and vegetables, flowers and other products) of their labor in Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island.
Both the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market, which runs every Sunday in downtown Bethany starting June 27, and Fenwick Island’s Farmers’ Market, running on Mondays and Fridays through the summer along Coastal Highway, beginning Monday, June 28, will take place from 8 a.m. until noon. Their market season will run for 11 weeks, and they are open to the public.
While several fresh faces will be added to each of the markets this year, those who stopped by the markets in the past can rest assured that familiar faces and the fresh produce they have grown to love will be hitting the stands, as well.
“We’re seeing new faces and more vendors,” noted Ellen Magee of Magee Farms, a local, family-run farm that just wrapped up a successful strawberry season. “We’re always looking for more new vendors, as well. The more we offer, the more variety we can get out to consumers.”
Magee helps head the Fenwick Island Farmers’ Markets, but she is no stranger to the Bethany location, to which her farm contributes, too. In fact, a handful of other recognizable farmers and local producers will spread their time between both towns at the markets this summer.
The Bennetts’ peaches have become a Sussex County staple, and those who swing by the markets will also see the return of the Johnsons, Hudsons, Honeybee Lake Apiary, Old World Breads and Good Earth Market.
Fenwick’s favorites from years past include Sap’s Pudding, while those accustomed to Bethany’s market will recognize names such as Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms, East View Farms, Lavender Fields and Rainbow Farms, which brings lilies and other flower arrangements to the market.
“You can never have enough flowers or enough fruits and produce,” said Magee, “and people will be happy to see the raspberries, blueberries and blackberries that are coming into season. We really try to take care of all of the area farmers.”
This year, both markets are reaching out to as many local growers and producers as they can. Fenwick Island will welcome Lewes-based Skippers’ Biscuit Company, which specializes in pet treats, and Delaware Silly Yak Foods, headed by owners of the new Café on 26 in Ocean View and specializing in gluten-free products.
Chapel’s Country Creamery in Easton, Greenbranch Farm in Salisbury and Wells Berry Farm in Mardela Springs will all be bringing their products from their Maryland-based businesses to the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market this season.
The Bethany Beach market will also host cooking demos this year, again, organized by Jean Wode and featuring ingredients and produce picked up right on the market’s premises and prepared by local chefs. In Fenwick, Magee noted, she hopes to incorporate local restaurants into the mix for cooking demonstrations, as well.
“It would be a great outreach to businesses in the community,” she said.
Though the recent winter may have been a discouraging one for most residents, it worked out for many farmers.
“The snowfall we received helped our soil,” expalined Magee. “It puts a lot of the nutrients back into the land.” Currently, the Magees are taking advantage of that extra nutrition, working on planting 120 acres of pumpkins in preparation for this autumn’s harvest.
A warm spring soon followed the winter wonderland, but many farmers have been working hard to cope with the hot, dry summer that is now upon us.
“All the farmers I know are praying for rain,” noted Carrie Bennett of Bennett Orchards. “It’s getting very dry here and, according to reports, we’re an inch and a half below what we should be at this time. That just means that some of us have to work harder and run irrigation in the dry conditions. This weather might be great for beach days, but as for farmers, we could use a few more showers.”
Still, the phones have been ringing with inquiries about the Bennetts’ picking season, which ought to start up by early July. Despite the hot and dry conditions, peaches will be plentiful at this year’s markets and at the orchard, Bennett promised.
“We’ve had a few weeks with no rain,” observed Dan Costello, president of the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market, “but many growers are taking care of that with irrigation, and from what we’re hearing, the crops should be coming in very well. The early part of the season has been really good for everyone, and we’re looking forward to good stuff from the start.”
The Bennetts experienced cruel conditions last year, when an overbearing and late spring freeze claimed 250 trees, affecting nearly half their business. But they hope to counter that loss in upcoming seasons with the addition of another popular crop.
“We’re looking to plant blueberries, as well,” said Bennett, “and we aren’t the only farmers in the area looking that way. It will help us diversify our crop that much more, and if we experience another hard freeze that takes out some of the peaches, we’ll have blueberries to offer. They are in very high demand, and there aren’t too many blueberry growers in the area.”
Costello recognized Bennett for her persistence and aid in bringing back some local favorites to the market, such as Rainbow Farms and Old World Breads.
“Steve Kogler of Old World Breads has been with us since we started,” Costello noted, “and he’s become extremely popular. More frequently than not, he sells out entirely. He and the Bennetts typically have the longest lines.”
And the cooking demonstrations have become a favorite for all.
“The chefs show up early,” Costello added, “and they will go around, visit growers and pick out stuff they see. Then, they’ll whip up something up based on what they’ve found on the tables.”
“We wouldn’t be able to do this without Jean’s help,” he added of Wode’s involvement in the cooking demo program. “The growers like it, because it brings an interaction between the chef, the farmers and the regular shoppers. You get to see the product go from the tables right into a recipe.”
The Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market will run every Sunday, from 8 a.m. until noon, in downtown Bethany, at the corner of Garfield Parkway and Pennsylvania Avenue, from June 27 through Sept. 5. The Fenwick Island Farmers’ Market will be held at the PNC Bank lot, at the corner of Coastal Highway and East Essex Street and will take place every Monday and Friday, beginning Monday, June 28, and will also run from 8 a.m. until noon on those days.