Monday, July 6, 2009

dutch country farmers market (198?-2009, sort of)

'The Market Will Remain Open'
The Dutch Country Farmers Market, local institution and purveyor of lemon squares, left Burtonsville for good Saturday. A fixture in Burtonsville for some twenty years, the so-called "Amish Market" was ran by farmers who commuted from Pennsylvania each weekend to sell everything from produce and hot meals to outbuildings. But the Amish Market wasn't just about food and sheds. It is as much a social place as it is one of commerce, and with it goes the social life of eastern Montgomery County.

The Amish Market was about running into your aunt and uncle who live in the District and they were more surprised to see you there because, your aunt says, "We come here every week." It was about trying really hard not to stare at the teenage girl at the fried chicken counter, because even if she wore a long dress and bonnet she was whispering to her shorts-and-T-shirt-clad coworkers about getting "blasted on Peppermint Schnapps" the night before. Those who ran the market served up healthy portions of American tradition, but it did not ask to be treated like a historical artifact. It was alive.

I think of the Amish Market and "the Turf" in Downtown Silver Spring as the two extremes of East County: one is a reminder of our agricultural past, the other speaks to a future where even the grass is man-made. But they both relate to each other as urban and rural experiences, whether in the Amish Market's maze of aisles, thick with the clamor of raised voices and machinery, or the green carpet of "the Turf," unassuming, simple, and a makeshift solution to the problem of a lot left fallow. They both came into being through the collective efforts of a few people that allowed thousands to come together.

And it was because of its significance to this community and my own life here that I chose to follow the saga of the Amish Market, which was forced to move from its twenty-year home in the Burtonsville Shopping Center at Route 29 and Route 198 when BMC Property Group announced plans to redevelop the strip mall. Despite multiple attempts by County officials - including the late Councilmember Marilyn Praisner - to keep them in Montgomery County, the market opened a second location in Upper Marlboro and signed a lease to move their main operations to Laurel in March 2008.

Since then, they've been waiting for developer Chris Jones to obtain building permits for the new shopping center, which began construction this January. The Market will reopen in "last August or early September" at their new location near the intersection of Route 198 and Route 197, east of Old Town Laurel. I doubt that it will be the same experience. They'll have a nicer building, maybe with wider, less claustrophobic aisles. The vendors will be the same, but the patrons may not. Some of us will find it too inconvenient to drive over to Laurel for a spontaneous trip. Then again, some people in Laurel will suddenly have a new place to go, to shop, and to visit one another.

You might say that we could have a community event at the rec center, or the high school, or some public facility built for the purpose of meeting. But ever since the Greek agora, humans have met and communed in the halls of commerce, because that's where we ran our errands. Places like the Amish Market are no different.


Dr. F. said...

Beautifully written tribute, Dan.

Any idea what Chris Jones plans to do to make his new mall something more than the strip mall it replaces?

Having eviscerated the closest thing we have in Burtonsville to a communal gathering place, what does he propose to re-create or perhaps re-invent this in his mall? What made him think that Giant would be a bigger draw than the 'Amish' Market? How many people drive from DC to go to some random suburban Giant? He had lightning in a bottle and he showed them the door. Go figure.

Any plans to make his mall a little more pedestrian-friendly?

And finally, having lured Giant from across the road at Burtonsville Crossing (thereby putting a fork in what was the newer, better, cleaner, classier of the two dueling strip malls), how can Chris Jones not feel a tad guilty about letting his hubris contribute significantly to the decline of Burtonsville?

rb said...

Well written.
Being from Amish country, I looked forward to my twice monthly trips from the southern edge of the county to Burtonsville. I'll probably follow them to Laurel. It isn't that much further..and I'm not about to trek to Upper Marlboro. One neighbor suggested she would boycott anything in the new shopping center. It probably won't have anything to attract distant visitors anyway. However, how many other business will lose business because of the move? I liked the Burtonsville Giant, but I won't go out of my way to go back, or Zimmermans and other shops. Has anyone else tried to find the new location of the post office in Burtonsville? It is certainly well hidden.
I will have to go out of our way to go to Heyser's Farm stand on New Hampshire for the freshest local seasonal fruits and vegetables, particularly peaches, apples and pumpkins. We used to stop there on our way to the Amish Market.
Those of us who made an effort to the go to the Market will probably continue, but without shopping in other stores in Burtonsville.

Unknown said...

I miss the stuffed pork chops. And those corn puff snack thingies. And the pies.

Thomas Hardman said...

As for the Amish, I suspect they will get a huge amount of business from the Maryland City crew, especially from any of the government and military types that get some time off of the reservation and are looking for a taste of the countryside.

For me, the big draw is mostly the Amish themselves, but then again, that might be moreso for the fact that they're mostly non-resident commuters from the vicinity of the town where my mother was born, and aren't all caught up in the weirdness that afflicts the world of "the English" in general and MoCo in particular. The general cheerfulness of the counter gals always put me in good spirits and seemed to have the same effect on everyone else.

Also, Beiler's Meats had one of the best and widest selections of sausages and sausagey type stuff around. I have to point out that for many German-Americans, Scrapple is genuine Soul Food and we feel about it the same way that Hawai'ians feel about Spam. You can't eat it every day because your arteries will clog, but sometimes you just have to have some and will go to extremes for it.

Also, the carry-out from the sit-down place back by Yoder's had the best potato salad ever.

But what will Burtonsville do, now? There's no "there" there any more, not really.