Cumberland Times-News

July 2, 2011

Farmers markets showing major changes

They’re not selling just fruits, veggies to customers anymore

Stephanie Weaver, Times-News intern
Cumberland Times-News

— OAKLAND — Farmers markets aren’t just for fresh fruits and vegetables anymore. Alongside the farm-grown lettuce, carrots and strawberries are vendors of various different, and unique, trades including jewelry, photography and other artwork.

At first glance, Linda Robinette’s table seems pretty standard. She sells a variety of herbs — mint, chives, basil and parsley — not much different than the other vendors around her selling their produce. It’s the other side of the table, covered with hand-painted pet rocks, that separates her from the typical fruits and veggies.

She’s been selling at the market for three or four years, and noticed that kids didn’t have anything to buy. With six grandchildren and an interest in art, Robinette began painting rocks and selling them along with her herbs — it was surprisingly a hit.

Owls were her first design, but she branched out to other animals when people began asking. The dogs, cats and dragonflies are the most popular, according to Robinette, but she provides a variety. “It’s really just a hobby. I don’t make any money at this,” she said, laughing. “It’s more of a relationship with the market rather than a business.”

She believes that society has lost itself in a world of technology but the farmers market is a way of social networking without Internet — a “community friendship” as she describes. “You develop relationships with the other folks and you learn from them. You also connect with your customers, and they come back each year,” she said.

She comes early each week to claim her table on the end, in the middle aisle, just so her previous customers know where they can find her.

Two tables down from the pet rocks sits Norma Strahin of D and N Photos, a photography business that she and her husband, David, own. They have sold their photography at the market for six years, and it varies from birds to scenes and produce — some from the farmers market.

“We don’t have to water our produce, it doesn’t spoil. ... It lasts forever. Everlasting vegetables,” she said. D and N photos are exclusive to Oakland’s farmers market, although the couple does travel to craft shows.

Scenes are the top sellers, but the vegetable photos sold like hot cakes to David’s disbelief, according to his wife.

“When we first started, we would sell a lot. It’s been slow the last couple of years,” she said, believing that people are taking more of their own photography rather than buying it. Even with the slight business decline, she said they will continue to take photos and sell them. She only has a third of their collection with her which spreads across a table at the market.

Diagonally from her table is Martha Kauffman, one of the local farmers, who has sold all her strawberries for the day — one of the most popular items she sells. Although her table is at the very end, she has a steady flow of customers interested in her vegetables and eggs. She has sold at the market for four years, specifically enjoying growing vegetables and selling directly to the customer.

Robinette’s table of pet rocks may not have as much business, but she supports the community aspect of the farmers market. “I know, myself, I make a point of supporting my local folks in the community.” She gives herself a budget and goes around buying a variety of produce from the vendors each week. “I’m supporting my community along with my own interests. I feel like it’s a full circle.”