After weeks of anticipation and months of work, the inaugural Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market is set to open, from 8 a.m. to noon on Sunday, July 1, in the Mercantile Peninsula Bank parking lot in town. The market will run for eight consecutive Sundays and connect farmers — whose farming roots span up to eight generations — and their fresh crops with local residents and visitors who spill into Bethany weekly during the hectic summer months.
The market is the result of a partnership between the state Department of Agriculture; John Himmelberg, an attorney who has consulted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and president of the Bethany Beach Landowners’ Association; Carrie Bennett, a local farmer who served as the local farming community’s representative; and many others.
“The interest is high,” Bennett said, and “the growers are enthusiastic. It is perfectly timed.”
The farmers’ market will serve as a timeless connection, Bennett said recently, to an era locally when local farmers carried their produce in horse-drawn wagons into Bethany Beach to sell freshly-grown crops to the townspeople. Even the market’s logo is modeled off a picture of a horse-drawn wagon organizers found in the Bethany Beach museum.
That direct connection between the farmers and the townspeople — and visitors — has been lost locally in recent decades. While Maryland towns have been connecting local farmers with townspeople through farmers’ markets for years, visitors to and residents of Delaware coastal towns have largely had to travel to back-road and highway-side stands to buy fresh produce.
Not anymore. By rule, all produce and other products sold at the farmers’ market must be home-grown on the farms of the seller, to ensure its freshness and a positive impact on the state’s farming economy.
Lois Lipsett, secretary of the Bethany Beach Landowners’ Association who helped with the organizational effort, said most of the produce that will be sold on Sunday will either be picked that morning or the day before.
“I think it’s going to be fabulous. I think it’s just going to be sensational,” Lipsett said this week. “This was something waiting to happen. The food is going to be fabulous.”
Himmelburg shared Lipsett’s enthusiasm.
“My overall view of food and vegetable growers is they are the best people you ever want to work for, as far as I’m concerned,” said Himmelberg, who represents farmers out of his Washington office.
Himmelberg handled all of the legal aspects of the organizing effort, including applying for grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and incorporating the market as a non-profit organization.
“I just hope we have good weather and good turnout and the farmers are happy. It’s one of the best things I’ve done,” he said. “I couldn’t be more pleased about helping out. It’s going to be good. It’s a good thing for the farmers. It’s a good thing for the community.”
Growers that will be participating in the market will include many local farming families profiled in the Coastal Point in recent weeks.
They will include the Magee family, members of which have been farming a 64-acre plot off Route 54 in Williamsville since the 1860s, and their famous strawberries.
The Johnsons, famous for everything from cantaloupe to sweet corn, will likely show up to the market Sunday, toting seventh-generation farming daughters who are currently more apt watch cartoons than till a field.
Tyler Parsons, a fourth-generation farmer-in-training, will also likely be in attendance. The 18-month-old, who is known to already pick up a rake, could make an appearance aside his parents who locally and regionally known for watermelons, pumpkins and several varieties of squash.
And it won’t stop there. Albert Hudson from Frankford will be selling everything from beets to sunflowers. Mike and Carol Hudson will be a part of the packed parking lot on Sunday, selling locally-produced certified organic honey, and Bill Stevenson, straight from a free-range chicken farm tucked inside a patch of woods near Gumboro, will show up on Sunday to sell fresh, colored guinea and chicken eggs.
Susan Ryan will be the only producer at the market representing an organic farm, selling everything from tomatoes to herbs, and the Bennetts might have a fresh batch of peaches ready by Sunday. Even fresh lavender and bread will be available.
Bennett, who excitedly promoted the market last week after months of preparation, talked with great enthusiasm about the group and the market’s opening Sunday.
“That’s the tradition we were trying to revive here: the relationship between the growers and the townspeople,” Bennett said. “Once you purchase locally grown food, you’re reluctant to purchase anything else.”