A Journey Seven Years in the Making: Middletown Farmers’ Market

April 30, 2021

We spot Ben Hittle as we walk into the Farmers’ Market in Middletown. He stands underneath a gigantic oak tree, sunglasses pulled up onto the striped beanie pulled tight on his head. He’s selling trees. “It’s a cedar,” he tells us, his blonde goatee framing his smile, “and it can only be found in two places in Lake County. It’s an endangered species.”

“That’s incredible,” I reply. “What type of cedar is it?

“I don’t know,” he responds. “I’ve looked for hours and spent way too much time on the phone trying to figure it out. Nobody knows. No,” he pauses. “Somebody knows. I’ll find them.” We buy one (Ben takes Bitcoin and crypto) and leave it with him until we head out. It’s uncomfortable carrying a poky cedar tree.

Meanwhile, a few booths down, Brenda Quintero from Golden Rocks Permaculture Farm, one of the founders of the Middletown Farmers’ Market, leans against the support of her booth, watching customers pass. After seven years of hard work, the Farmers’ Market is finally back in the Park.

“It’s thrilling for us,” she says. “It’s the right place for the market. Our first market was in 2012 at the Middletown Square Park, with vendors in the parking area. This was a ‘community market’ which is legal but uncertified as a farmers market.” She pauses for a second as a customer looks closer at her vegetables.

‘Then,” she continues, her turquoise turtle earrings swinging as she talks, “in 2013 we became a Certified Farmers’ Market, and from 2013 – 2015 Lovie’s Garden Supply sponsored us, covering insurance costs and sometimes bringing in a live band. Margaret was extremely supportive up until the Valley Fire changed the face of Middletown. Then, in 2016 the Market moved to Middletown Art Center where it has been operating May-December through 2020.”

Another browser takes a closer look at a salve and asks a question. Brenda gives a friendly reply, then turns back to us. “At Golden Rocks, we say we’re connecting earthlings with earth things,” Brenda says, a big smile crossing her face. “I’m just thrilled about being here. Joe and his wife Kerly Eckhart at DeJulius Family Farms are the current sponsors of the market and responsible for getting us in the park once and for all. We’ve always dreamed of coming back to the park, and the right zoning and administrative changes have finally made it possible.” The Lake County Public Services team made the process possible.

Trudy and I have Brenda pick out a couple of teas created at Golden Rocks. “They’re a mixture of wild-harvested and organically grown herbs,” she says as she pours some Vitality Blend in a paper bag. It’s a mixture of nettle, red raspberry, tulsi, orange zest, and roses and makes a bright, lovely tea.

We say our goodbyes and wander further through the market. A couple of musicians, hooked up to an amp, play Bob Marley tunes. Kids dance, and friends chat with each other, looking over the many vegetable starts. It’s springtime, and the evening’s warm and pleasant.

Just around the corner, Travis Rinker and Alex Vollelunga hang out in their booth, selling beard oil, tomato starts, and dried peppers in small plastic containers.

“You might like this one,” Travis says, his long dark hair falling straight down his back. I pick up a small plastic container filled with dried yellow peppers. “It’s sugar rush peach.”

“I like to eat this one with a little bit of cheese,” Alex says.

“So, do you grind it up?” Trudy asks.

“Or cut it in pieces,” Travis replies. “You can put it in a dish to spice it up. But don’t let it ruin your dinner.” We laugh.

“A little bit goes a long ways,” Alex adds.

We pick up our peppers, eager to take them home—and it’s true. They’re great with a bit of cheese.

Trudy and I slowly make our way back to the car, swinging by Ben Hittle’s table again to pick up our cedar and chat for a few minutes The music picks back up. The opening chords to “Three Little Birds” come through the speakers. The day’s cooling down; it’s still springtime. And all’s well at the market.

Middletown Farmers’ Market is every Friday 5:30 – 7:30 pm at Middletown Square Park

You can find Vollelunga Farm’s peppers on Instagram at @Pepper_Portal

This post first appeared on The Bloom. To read more like it, visit their website at lakecountybloom.com