Customers Sparse along Bustling Corridor
One corner of the asphalt parking lot of Iverson Mall was a virtualfield of dreams on Saturday morning – dreams of a hardy stream of customers coming for fresh produce, meats and flowers.
However, despite near-perfect morning weather – sun, blue skies and temperatures in the 60s – three vendors sat idle at the Branch Avenue in Bloom farmers market waiting for customers despite busy traffic on Branch Avenue and surrounding the Iverson Mall in Hillcrest Heights, Md.
This was the second weekend of the Branch Avenue farmers market, held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday through Nov. 17.
Jennifer Funn, retail revitalization coordinator with the Maryland Small Business Development Center, said that consumer traffic at the market on the first Saturday [April 14] was about 100 people – much more than during the first year.
"It was really, really a good start for the year," said Funn. However, it was slow going on the second Saturday.
Ziggi Luna with D.S. Produce said his stand did "pretty good" on opening day. "Hopefully more people will know about us." Luna's stand offers asparagus for $5 a pound, garlic for $1.50 a bunch, onions for $2 a bunch, strawberries for $5 a quart and lettuce for $2 a head.
Shannon Adams, a resident of Chapel Hill, N.C., said she came to town just to wander about and find some farmers markets. She bought a red carnation plant from vendor Fleming Thomas.
Thomas kept watch over two tables of plants including mint, dill, oregano, tomatoes and petunias. He said it was a little early in the season for greater variety but soon more fresh vegetables and fruits from Southern Maryland farmers would be added.
The market is an outgrowth of an initiative Governor Martin O'Malley launched in 2010 to revitalize some communities.
"In a very short amount of time we're making small steps with a very large impact. One of those is the Branch Avenue farmers market," said Funn.
She said that the Branch Avenue corridor was designated by first lady Michelle Obama as a "food desert.
"There are not enough supermarkets in that corridor to adequately serve that community," said Funn, pointing out there's a lack of "fresh, locally grown affordable produce."
Funn spoke of Iverson Mall as a "forgotten place," but one with plenty of history. "It was the first enclosed mall on the East Coast," she said. "It was hot in the '60s, '70s, [and] '80s. In the '90s people began to expand their retail options."
Last year, the first year for the market, was rocky. Perceptions some people have had of the area led to farmers being wary of participating.
"Farmers thought they were going to get stuck up," said Funn. "It never happened."
Still only one farmer participated.
This year they've had three farmers sign on as well as a rancher who brings local beef and goat meat to the market and vendors selling candles and organic coffee.
"Seniors came out, young families came out, children interacted with farmers," said Funn of the market during its first year. "It ended up being a really nice social community weekly event."