By A.R. Cabral
Phil Miller stood proudly next to a 1990 International truck bearing the name of his farm. The sun had been up for only two hours, and he already had a decent crowd of patrons browsing his tables of fresh produce.
“This is the only market I attend; I don’t go to this one or that one,” Miller said, pointing his finger north and south, “It’s busy farming during the week, but I do take off and come here. I enjoy it — I really do.”
Miller, current owner of Miller Farms, in Clinton, Md, oversees the 300-acre vegetable farm with his family. He’s been selling produce at the College Park Farmers Market at Paint Branch Parkway since it was established in 1979.
Miller has been selling at the market since it first opened, 42 years ago — the only vendor holding this record. The market is home to other vendors, too, including crafters and home improvement specialists — and food trucks, which are always a big draw.
“We have such a huge selection of a variety of different things,” said Robyn Gaston, the market’s volunteer market coordinator. “The other thing is that [our customers] feel vendors really are the faces of the community. So we have a variety [of vendors]: male, female, Black, white, Latino — it’s mainly the variety.”
According to Gaston, nearly four dozen vendors now participate in the market.
Gaston is a vendor herself — she sells organic soaps, and bath and body accessories. Her small business, Three Peas, is named for her fraternal triplets. As volunteer coordinator, she also selects other vendors for the market. Gaston said she looks for people who enjoy what they do and can support the community.
The pandemic trimmed the market’s vendor ranks in half last summer, and many of the vendors selling food were on hold until restrictions lifted. Gaston noted that the market has largely returned to its pre-pandemic flow. And the market’s vibrancy is returning, too.
Nancy Lachance, a newcomer to the market, sells hand-dipped beeswax candles that she often decorates with dried flowers from Smile Herb Shop. She also sells a variety of embroidered linens like napkins and baby swaddles. She was upbeat and enthusiastic about joining the market. “I’m looking forward to getting to know the community a little bit,” she said. “I just moved to Hyattsville last year. I’m hoping to let people know about beeswax and getting to know people”
Lachance wasn’t the only person attending for the first time on the day the Here & Now perused the market. Lin DeVore was exploring the market with her daughter Rachel and their dog, Lucy, as well. Devore was drawn to the Miller Farms stand and a vendor who offered beard balm and oil, both items she said her husband would appreciate.
Kamiani Middleton, a teacher at Montgomery Blair High School, was also checking out the market. He told the Here & Now that he hoped young people would be drawn to ventures like the market. “I’d like to see some younger entrepreneurs, maybe younger people with their crafts, ideas. Just more young people — middle schoolers, high schoolers — volunteering, even if they are getting community service hours.”
As Middleton rode away on his bicycle, the farmers market had found its hum. Vendors and patrons were conversing about products, and children begged mom for another dollar to buy snacks. Over all of this noise, the sound of a folk guitar filled the air.
Mason McCormick, dressed in a cowboy hat and boots to match, played guitar next to the Miller Farms stand. “I play fine and wild songs for fine and wild folks,” said McCormick, folk laureate of the College Park Farmer’s Market. “I am your friendly neighborhood cowboy; I am playing at the red tent just west of the vegetables.”
McCormick hopes to see more local musicians play there, too. It’s a good spot to workshop songs, he noted.
Shoppers, vendors and entertainers mingle with each other as if they’re old friends. And then there’s Phil Miller, with his truck and his tent and his produce. When he sets up his stand on a Saturday morning in College Park, he can’t help but smile at all the people showering each other with kindness.