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July 02, 2008

Harbor East Farmers' Market

Chioggia Beets from Brown's Cove Farm Dominic Armato

My cup runneth over, and the timing couldn't be better. It's been tough to post about restaurants since moving to Baltimore. The little fella's one and a half, and while he's extremely well-behaved, he's one and a half. So I've been trying to work the stove more these days, and summer is the perfect time to be doing so when you have access to great farmers' markets. I actually didn't hit the markets very often back in Chicago, and if you wonder why, look no further than the fact that most of my blog posts go up around 3:00 in the morning. When the best finds are on the table, I've usually been asleep for about four hours (to be clear, I say this with shame). But here, it's just too easy. Last summer I was pretty much floored by the enormous JFX viaduct market on Sundays, less than a mile from home, and then last month my weekend was made complete by the addition of the new Harbor East farmers' market, which is a mere three blocks from home here in Little Italy and commences at the far more nightowl-friendly hour of 9:00 AM. So for the past few weeks, I've been positively tickled to exercise my love of both farm fresh produce and sleep.

Three Springs Fruit FarmDominic Armato
The new Harbor East market is run by FRESHFARM Markets, a nonprofit that manages eight farmers' markets around the DC/Maryland area. Sadly, since there's nothing that can't be viewed through the prism of class warfare, the existence of the two markets within a mile of each other has sparked a bit of snark and controversy. There may also be an additional level of "old warhorse challenged by young interloper" that, as a recent import, I'm missing. But personally, as in all things, I prefer to leave my broad brush holstered and focus on the food. When I do -- well, if you were to ask me which I'd prefer to have in my neighborhood if I weren't allowed both, it's not even a question worth asking. The JFX market is really amazing. But this isn't a contest, and just because it's small doesn't mean the Harbor East market isn't worth visiting.

Honey from Breezy Willow FarmDominic Armato
The best way I can think to label it, loaded as the phrase may be, is a boutique farmers' market. It's very small, kinda hoity-toity, and the prepared food and non-edible stalls are as numerous as the ones pushing actual farmland products. Though the selection be small, however, the quality is right on. Like any boutique shop, a lot of the chaff is missing, and what's there is very carefully selected and of very high quality. It's not a place where you can go and expect to find whatever you need. Unless I missed others (very possible), basil was the only fresh herb present this past Saturday. But though I haven't walked away with much, I've enjoyed the ability to get a good look at everything and pick out a couple of items to build dishes around.

Berries from Three Springs Fruit FarmDominic Armato
Though I don't believe they're quite up to full speed just yet, I count three produce stands and three protein stands. Three Springs Fruit Farm has some squash and basil, and tomatoes made their first appearance this past weekend (even if all but one were gone by the time I arrived at 9:10), but as the name indicates, they're focusing on fruits and berries. Saturday saw cherries sweet and sour, blueberries, raspberries, apples and a sign heralding the arrival of peaches in three weeks' time. One Straw Farm has been the purveyor of all things leafy, pushing romaine, lettuce, collards, kale and chard, along with some beautiful radishes and beets. One Straw was also offering CSA shares, and I overheard them telling one interested shopper that the market could be her pickup point. My purchasing so far has mostly taken place at Brown's Cove Farm, by virtue of the fact that I went a little overboard with zucchini blossoms. But they also have a great deal of squash and zucchini, some potatoes and onions, the beautiful Chioggia beets you see at the top of the post, and a big ol' pile of sweet corn that made an appearance this week and has already highlighted two dinners.

Bread from Atwater's BakeryDominic Armato
As for all things meaty, Springfield Farm is covering a lot of bases, offering chicken, pork, ground beef and steaks, chicken and duck eggs and some homemade Merguez that caught my eye and I hope to utilize at some point. Looking at the website, they seem quite proud of their pigs, so I'm anxious to give their pork a try. Groff's Content Farm is focusing mostly on poultry at the moment, but it sounds like beef and lamb aren't too far off. And I'm pretty excited about the presence of Gunpowder Bison & Trading Co., which is exclusively offering their namesake... the meat, not the munitions. I've been playing with bison a bit lately, so the timing couldn't be better. I think bison Bolognese is next on the list. And I'm a sucker for jerky, which they also have on hand. Other edible options include some beautiful bread that I haven't yet sampled from Atwater's Bakery, honey from Breezy Willow Farm, and crepes once a month from Sofi's. Non-edibles round out the show with handmade soaps by RJ Caulder, an assortment of flowers and potted plants from Locust Point Flowers and some stunning orchids from The Little Greenhouse.

Orchids from The Little GreenhouseDominic Armato
So is the Harbor East farmers' market redundant? Yeah, kinda. I think the only thing it offers that the JFX market doesn't is the bison, which I'm kind of excited about, and cooking demonstrations by local chefs, which are entirely appropriate to the neighborhood but seem somewhat out of place to me. But while I can look for ways to compare it to the behemoth to the north and tear it down, I find myself far more inclined to appreciate it for what it is. It's a really pleasant little gathering right on the water, the limited number of stalls are very well balanced, and so far everything I've brought home with me has been wonderful. I don't think it's a destination event unless you live nearby or there's something specific you know you'll find there, but it's entirely worthwhile. Some hardcore marketgoers may scoff, but to deride it for what it isn't strikes me as unnecessary posturing and ignores what it is: a small scale, high quality well-organized market that's a lovely way to spend part of a Saturday morning and will assuredly yield some delicious spoils.

FRESHFARM Market at Harbor East
www.freshfarmmarket.org
1000 Lancaster St.
(Between Exeter & Central)
Saturdays, 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM
Through October 25th

Comments

Can't wait to check it out. I live in Canton and am always very pleased with what Harbor East has brought to the area. Sure it's a bit hoity toity, but I think Baltimore needs this niche.

Definitely try some atwater's breads if you haven't had the chance to visit their belvedere location. I've found them great from spreads and soup-bowls when you have people over or just want to spoil yourself a bit. I wonder if they have some of their cheese there too.

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