Baltimore’s 32nd Street Farmers Market: Hula Hoops, 7-Up Pound Cake, and Slurpy-Ripe Peaches

Hula hoops

Hula hoops come in many sizes and colors.

From hula hoops and honey to bison meat and baked goods, the year-round 32nd Street Farmer’s Market in Baltimore is the market I wish we had in Boston.

This barren parking lot behind a 7-11 is not a place I’d want to hang out at night, but every Saturday morning, it’s transformed into a locavore’s dream, a multicultural community gathering, and a playground for all ages.

The Hula Hooper

Andreas “Spilly” Spiliadis demonstrates how to hula hoop

In the grassy media strip across from the market, Andreas “Spilly” Spiliadis sells hula hoops that he makes out of rolls of PVC irrigation tube and brightly colored tape. As he stands on a Waverly neighborhood stone marker, he expertly swirls a hoop around his waist, knees, and neck, insisting that it’s fun and easy. As we chatted, a middle-aged woman drove by and was so excited by the hula-hoop display that she left her minivan running in the middle of the street, blocking traffic; Spilly gently encouraged her to park and come back. In addition to selling at the market, he takes his “People’s Hoop Party” to parks and parties to encourage people to take a trial swivel. For a taste of the action, check out this hip-shaking video of folks hula hooping to “Billie Jean” in the park.

While I strolled, shopped, and ate my way past the dozens of stalls, I was serenaded by flute, saxophone and guitar players; seduced by the smells of Ethiopian, Indian, West Indian, Thai and other ethnic cuisines; and sated by tastes of slurpy-ripe yellow peaches, fresh-roasted Fair Trade coffee from Zeke’s, and a delightfully moist raspberry bran muffin from Atwater’s Bakery.

The Crepe Maker

Travis from Chez G Crepes prepares my crepe.

The sight of crepes being made reminded me of the fabulous crepes at my favorite market in the world, Camden Lock in London, so I stopped at Chez G Crepes, where I chatted with Travis as he poured the batter for my Portobello, feta and spinach crepe onto the grill.

The Pound Cake baker

Leah Williams sells her pound cakes at the 32nd Street Farmers Market.

Not far from Chez G, I was charmed by Leah Williams’ display of carefully wrapped slices of plain, lemon, and 7-Up pound cake. Since I’d never heard of using 7-Up in a cake, I had to investigate. Apparently, the 7-Up acts as the leavening agent. Happily, the cake did not taste like a can of soda; the 7-Up imparted a lemony flavor, and the slice was dense, moist and delicious.

I purchased six different heirloom tomatoes for $3 a pound and a bouquet of local lettuce for another $3, along with some attractive white chard, which, confusingly, is actually green chard with white stalks. I also picked up 1/4 peck of those yellow peaches for $6 and 2 quarts of cherry and acid-free tomatoes for $5.

The Flute Player

Musician Esther Trueheart is also a teacher.

Hot and tired, I stopped to listen to Esther Trueheart play her flute. The notes wafted through the market like a stream of soap bubbles. In addition to performing at the markets, Esther is a substitute teacher and runs a music school she hopes to make into a full-time business. I told her the name of my blog is “The PescoVegetarian Times,” and she said she’s been exploring vegetarian foods. We agreed that you can’t get people to give up Kentucky Fried Chicken by lecturing; you have to provide convenient, affordable alternatives that taste good.

With markets like 32nd street, getting people to eat healthy local food is as easy as, well, hula hooping’s supposed to be.  If only I could shimmy like Spilly.

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