In late August of 2003, my cell phone rang while I was tending my farm’s market stand in the Taneytown Farmer’s Market. It was Jim Crebs of Tomatoes, Etc. on the other end of the cell phone connection. Jim and I have known each other for many years. We are the same age and both graduated from high school in the same year a quarter of a century ago, albeit from different schools. Anyway, Jim was calling from his stand at the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market. During the conversation, he implored me to join the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market because almost all of the farmers from previous years had retired, leaving, basically, him and Greg Thorne of Thorne Farm as the only vendors in the large Conaway parking lot in which the current market still resides. In a short span of time due to the conversation, I agreed, and decided to join the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market.
Now to explain a little further, the Taneytown Farmer’s Market was a nightmare… for an organic vegetable farmer at least. To ignore the fact that almost no one who came to the market, that is, of the very few people who attended the market, cared about “organic” produce, the main issue of concern was the Market Rules for that particular market (along with most markets at that time). In the rules for the Taneytown market, it clearly stated that farmer’s could “buy in” up to 20% of the produce they would sell in order to supplement a lack of supply early in the market. It was an old rule, deemed wise over the years to help out fruit vendors who have little to sell until the bulk of their fruit ripens. It was a terrible rule for someone, like me, who grows crops from the spring through the fall by my own effort and energy.
The market managers at the Taneytown market had enticed a larger market farmer into their market that year, and this gentleman used the “buy in” clause to his fullest advantage. Each week, he showed up at the market with a truckload of produce purchased at the food depot in Jessup, Maryland, which, to the customer, appeared to originate from his farm. And so, while I sat behind my tiny stand with 75 cent certified organic cucumbers for sale in early July, his display heralded corn, lopes, tomatoes (all of which would not be ripe for another month in our growing area)… and cucumbers for 25 cents. I stewed for weeks watching that dishonest display of farming… and sold virtually nothing. How was it justified that this larger farm could cheat in such a manner? Just because he had a big truck and could purchase bulk produce so cheaply? I admit that it infuriated me… but I have never been one to give up in the face of such disparity. Instead… I joined the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market.
At that time, Jackie Coldsmith was a fellow vendor at the Taneytown Farmer’s Market. We met the year before, and since we were both strongly aligned to “organic” agriculture, we talked extensively about how to make such agriculture work in Carroll County. Once the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market option arose, we agreed on forming a partnership of sorts, and by 2004, both her farm, De La Tierra Gardens, and mine had moved to the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market.
What struck both Jackie and I immediately was how passionate the customers at the Westminster market were. It was not at all like Taneytown where you really needed to sell your product. The Westminster crowd truly desired the produce… and were willing to pay for it! This same group of regular customers remains to this day, and we are incredibly appreciative of them! But I have digressed. Nonetheless, it was truly invigorating to meet a customer base who actually wanted you to be there. And instantly, we were hooked on the market.
The issue, however, for the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market in 2004, like 2003, was the lack of vendors. We drastically needed more farmers to join the market. For me, a huge BUT lingered… BUT we can’t allow such large farms that “buy in” a substantial portion of what they sell. And so we endured a slow and small market throughout the 2004 season. One particular Saturday morning, however, developed into a paramount moment for us… along with the reason for this very entry… which after all, is a eulogy of sorts…
Over the weeks, I read the Market Rules for the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market, which read very closely to that of the Taneytown market, with the “buy in” rules etc. We needed to change our rules. Period. Our market would be for “producers only”. What we sell, we produce. Period. We discussed this amongst ourselves for weeks, and on one Saturday, when a tropical storm visited the market dropping a deluge of rain upon our meek stands, we clamped our tents together, I pulled out the Market Rules, and the four of us agreed on how we should word the “new” rules for what would be our current “producer only” farmer’s market. Fine. We were in agreement. We only had one more bridge to scale… the city that supports us… Westminster, Maryland.
Enter Stan Ruchlewicz, the administrator for economic development for the city of Westminster. Stan was our man to approach if anything could be done to change the rules of the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market.
Stan, after all, is the focus of this entry, and I do not want to waste anymore space detailing all that transpired over the years. What has been detailed above seems to be sufficient to explain our, that is the farmer’s at the Downtown market’s point of arrival to “meeting” Stan.
My memory of when we first approached Stan about changing the rules of the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market is not absolutely clear so many years removed. I do remember the situation of… so who are the board members? They have all retired. That makes the four of us: Greg, Jackie, Jim and I the farm representatives, and Stan the city representative. It was obvious back in those days almost a decade ago, that Stan had not thought all that much about our farmer’s market. Nonetheless, he worked with us, without any hesitation really. Even though at that time, we were four small farms attempting to start what we envisioned would be a clear path to the future of farming, he was willing to accept our “changes”, and those changes were implemented as so…
Again, that was almost a decade ago. Since then, “producer only” farmer’s markets have become quite popular, and while we were by no means the first “producer only” farmer’s market, we are the first in Carroll County. Each year we would meet with Stan to discuss changes and improvements, etc. And as each year passed, it could easily be seen how Stan’s enthusiasm grew over our market. This year in particular, he was very excited about the City of Westminster allowing for the Tuesday Farmer’s Market in the Conaway parking lot. Stan may not have gotten our vision many years ago, but he helped nurture it nonetheless. Up to this date this year, he was at every market, armed with camera… and lots to chat about… that is, except for yesterday’s market.
It has been quite a shock to learn that Stan passed away yesterday from a heart attack. No, he was not at the market yesterday, and now we know why. It is always strange to try to come to grips with the passing on of people with which you work closely. I can remember Stan quite vividly last Saturday at the market. He was so enthusiastic about what can develop.
But, alas, Stan is going to miss it. After spending close to a decade working with us off-beat farmers, after watching and helping us grow to the respectable market that we now are… Stan is no more. I do not know what else to write. I hope that the reader will have come to understand that there is much more to a farmer’s market than merely farmers presenting their wares. It takes a lot of organizing and administration as well.
To end, I feel quite comfortable to speak for all of the vendors at the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market… Adieu, Stan. Thank you for all that you have done for us. We will miss you.