For over three decades, when someone mentioned the “College Park Farmers Market”, it could only mean one thing: the one held on Saturday mornings by Wells Ice Rink on Paint Branch Parkway. This market was one of the first of its kind in Maryland when it was established back in 1979, and eventually saw its customer traffic increase more than tenfold over the years. The situation started changing in 2010, when the University of Maryland started hosting its own farmers market on a trial basis. The UMD Farmers Market officially opened in May 2012 and is now held on Wed. afternoons in front of the Cole Fieldhouse. In the meantime, the Downtown College Park Farmers Market opened in June 2011 and is now hosted on Sunday mornings by City Hall. Things haven’t slowed down this year, as the Hollywood Farmers Market made its debut last month and is held at the Hollywood Shopping Center in North College Park on Saturday mornings.
Considering our diverse neighborhoods and population groups, it should come as no surprise that College Park would finally outgrow a “one size fits all” approach to farmers markets. Though the venerable market on Paint Branch has thrived for over 30 years, it’s far enough from the UMD campus that few students or staff were aware it existed. The fact that markets by Cole Fieldhouse and City Hall emerged roughly a year apart indicates a growing demand for local foods from the UMD community and surrounding neighborhoods. Access to fresh foods serves an important need for UMD students, given the notorious lack of a grocery store within walking distance of campus.
But the launch of the Hollywood Farmers Market last month demonstrates a commitment to the local foods movement that goes beyond the UMD community. With the highest concentration of single family homes in the city, and a remote location relative to the other three markets, North College Park moved rapidly to realize its vision of a new farmers market. In response to a survey last year, residents showed strong support for a market located within the neighborhood. Working with councilmembers Kabir & Wojahn, a group of residents created a market committee, formed a 501c3 non-profit organization, contacted vendors and organized the new market in less than a year. The new market offers North College Park residents a walkable location and an important opportunity to revitalize the Hollywood Commercial District.
As farmers markets multiply in our neighborhoods, it’s natural to wonder if we’ve reached a saturation point, or if brand new markets will be launched in the coming years. Few would’ve predicted we’d have four independent farmers markets in operation just five years ago, but College Park has done that and established itself as a leader in sustainable living. Though these markets offer valuable opportunities to purchase fresh food and support local farmers, their benefits go beyond culinary delights. As others have pointed out, our farmers markets provide an ongoing event in a shared space, where residents can meet each other and gather to discuss local issues. Indeed, farmers markets can offer our neighborhoods that elusive third place, where strangers can become neighbors and come together to build their communities. If College Park is to realize its potential, we need more third places. Our farmers markets can deliver that experience year after year, which is something we can all celebrate.