Reopening, Jewish Vendors at Farmers Market Consider Pandemic

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The majority of farmers and small businesses gain income from farmers markets, but this year all of that is on the line with national shutdowns and even Maryland’s own Farmers Market Association closing.

courtesy photo

Despite challenges, the Jewish community will get a chance to buy, sell, and reunite at the Pikesville Farmers Market, which opened June 2 (when this article went to print). It runs Tuesdays 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. in Pomona Square along Reisterstown Road.


“What makes it special is you can get falafel from Tova, who is from Israel, or food from the new kosher vendor, and a lot of our vendors — if they’re not selling Jewish things — they themselves are part of the Jewish community,” said Beth Rheingold, president of the Pikesville Owings Mills Regional Chamber of Commerce, which runs the farmers market.

To reopen the market, the board had a lot of concerns to balance: virus risks, economic pains, the need for healthy food, and the desire for community.

Pikesville Owings Mills Regional Chamber of Commerce delayed opening for a month while it studied infection rates and planned precautions with market manager Harvey Siegel, who is Jewish. Rheingold visited Bethesda’s market and researched best practices, while Siegel visited the vendors’ farms to ensure operations were sanitary. The two came up with rules to make the market more pristine than ever this year.

Everyone must wear masks. Vendors must wear gloves. There must be five feet between vendors. Add another foot if you’re a customer in front of the vendor. Stay attentive to one-way directional signs. Do not sample, sniff, scratch, or touch the products. If you do, there will be sanitation stations at the ready. There will be two exits, and you are encouraged to hurry up and use them rather than linger. There will be one single entrance to limit people, which Siegel will be manning. It is recommended that children be left at home. Decide what to purchase before entering. Wash all produce before eating. And please, Rheingold asks, be kind.

Courtesy of Pikesville Farmers Market

While the community abides by the principle of pikuach nefesh, the board had to make these choices to keep people safe.

This year, the market has 30 vendors, more than it has had in years and many of them Jewish.

Suzanne Kassel, owner and baker of The Mondel Broad Bakery vendor, is worried even with the precautions.

“I’m concerned people won’t follow the rules, that they won’t get back from tables, that they’ll want to touch — everybody likes to touch and see what they’re getting. But this year is different,” said Kassel. People are often tempted to taste test her mandel bread, the Jewish biscottis that she sells in flavors like cinnamon nut or chocolate peanut butter chip.

While Kassel said she loves being able to help her customers celebrate Jewish holidays and heritage, “we’ll have to step up and say please do no touch this or that.”

Liora Brunn, who is the founder of Zoetic Wellness, which sells jewelry and gifts, is particularly hesitant to join as she has lost someone to COVID-19. However, she is appreciative that the community has the farmers market as a resource. “Judaism is a way of life that uses community as a way to both support and enhance the individual,” Brunn said. “The market, being a community gathering place, offers an opportunity for the Jewish community to come together pluralistically, which matters a lot to me.” She also looks forward to people coming out of their bubbles to support others.

Courtesy of POM

Seven vendors will not join until July. Still, Rheingold is confident about opening.

“Our chamber has been really deliberate about thinking through this,” she said. “And we know that farmers markets are safer than grocery stores.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that being outside is safer in regards to germs being spread.

Rheingold is also optimistic that the market will support low-income neighborhoods where there are food deserts, and offer affordable, accessible options for the Jewish community.
For example, she and Siegel are excited about their newest kosher vendor, FeedingUKosher, which sells kosher meat, poultry, and eggs. “They can undersell any other kosher market in Pikesville, and they’re offering top-of-the-line kosher meat. So we’re excited to offer the Jewish community this at a time when so many people are unemployed or worried about finances,” said Rheingold.

Another vendor is Tova Chansky of Tovavi, who sells Israeli food. “I closed all my other locations so I could focus on Baltimore” because of the Jewish community, she said. She’s working on a new vegan shawarma that she wants customers to try at the market.

farmers market
Tova by David Stuck

The market will also help improve vendors’ income.

“The vendors had no work from us in May, and their businesses have, I’m sure, decreased tremendously,” said Siegel.

Personally, he has not been able to sell anything “because it’s all in person. I have not made any money until this Tuesday.”

One vendor, Max Sobol, Jewish co-owner of Max & Steven’s, which sells hemp extracts, said he was initially hurt by the pandemic because they were so used to having in-person events such as fairs to sell products. “All of that has been canceled, so that impacted our local business. So we shifted our focus to a local radio show and [shopping] online,” Sobol said.

The Living Room, a medical marijuana dispensary, adjusted by switching to delivery and pick-up orders only. “We’ve done that really well. Our employees did a good job following all rules and social distancing,” said owner and vendor Morey Zuskin. His business has luckily been steady, but the market is still definitely something he anticipates. “It’s good for us to get our brand out there, and good for the community to be involved.”

The Mondel Broad Bakery had seen hurdles in its usual flow of business lately as well.

“I’m just starting to get reopened. I missed all my events and [Jewish] holidays in March and April [due to shutdowns], so I am excited to open now,” said Kassel. “I miss the customers as I’m sure they missed us. I’m eager to get back into the real world. I want it to feel more normal again.”

While the market usually ends its season in October, this year the plan is to extend that to December to support vendors.

“I am very excited, a little nervous because I know, living here myself, people can’t wait to get out of their houses, and I’m sure there will be a line. It’s up to the people to do what they’re supposed to do,” Siegel said. “But I am very excited. It’s a great place with all walks of life, all of America.”

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