The Baltimore Farmers Market was abustle with earnest, good-natured shoppers seeking the country-fresh makings of Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, the biggest day of the year for the grower-sellers, who had set up their tables by sunrise.
Awash in dazzling autumn sunlight relieved by shade from the overhead Jones Falls Expressway, the market drew a mixed crowd of weekly regulars, Sunday sightseers and new shoppers exploring its reputed choice and bargains.
The crowds leisurely inspected the piles of cabbage aneggplant, savored sample cups of cider, learned about the relative merits ofdifferent sweet potatoes or inquired about dried flower arrangements.
But some knew exactly what they wanted.
For 5-year-old Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, it was that big Red Delicious apple perched at the top of the small basket. She and her two younger brothers got their apples, along with honey sticks and other treats, but father Hugh said he had trouble finding some things on his grocery list.
"We like to come here, not just for shopping but because the kids have a lot of fun," he said.
"I couldn't find everything I wanted this week, but there's a good start," Mr. Fitzpatrick noted, nodding at the plastic bags of food he was carrying.
Carla Thomas was looking for sweet potatoes to make her pies for the family Thanksgiving dinner. "You get a good selection, and it's cheaper than at the grocery store," she explained, as she paid for 5 pounds of potatoes. "If you're a careful shopper, you can buy most of what you need at the market."
A regular customer, Ms. Thomas also toted away a bushel bag of greens, a bag of apples and a carton of green beans.
Eggs, the brown-shell variety, were the priority this week for Margaret Pendergrass. "We always eat a lot of eggs, especially the twins," she said of her two 15-year-old daughters. "It's got nothing to do with Thanksgiving, just our regular shopping."
Her Thanksgiving assignment is to prepare a turkey to help feed nearly 100 relatives who meet every year at a rented hall in Catonsville to celebrate. "Working two jobs, I don't know when I'll have time to fix that bird," she sighed.
Turkey and cranberries were just about the only part of the traditional dinner that couldn't be found among the 50 stalls at Farmers Market. Cured meats, cheeses, baked goods and fish were among the tasteful offerings, as well as mountains of fresh vegetables and fruits.
Sellers of kale and greens were doing a non-stop business, mostly by the bushel bag. "No time to talk, too many people in line," shouted the harried operator of the Thanksgiving Farms stand.
Apples and potatoes were also in great demand, but those merchants took more time to explain to customers the qualities of different varieties.
"The white sweet potato is milder, try it and see if you don't like it better," urged one grower. "Your family will be surprised."
Don Laramore, a Denton farmer who brings a truck or two of produce here each Sunday morning, had a more unusual best-seller.
His truckload of Chinese cabbage and Korean radish was gone by mid-morning, a line of anxious Korean restaurateurs and homemakers having begun to form as he arrived at daybreak.
"We never have enough of it because everyone comes here," said John Grocki, an Essex man who works the Laramore stand. "You wouldn't believe how hectic it gets the first couple of hours."
Like many vendors at the Farmers Market, which is operated by the city, Mr. Laramore sells most of his farm production to wholesalers. But once a week, he and his family drive to dTC Baltimore to sell their produce to the public.
"It's a lot of fun, and you can make a living from it," he said, adding, "as long as you don't mind getting up before 3 a.m. every Sunday" to make the drive.
The Baltimore Farmers Market, now in its 13th year, is open Sundays through Dec. 23.
Area farmers markets
Following is a list provided by the state Department of Agriculture of farmers markets open in or near the Baltimore area:
* Baltimore Farmers Market, Holliday and Saratoga streets, under JFX. Sundays 8 a.m. until sold out (about noon). Closes Dec. 23.
* Howard Park Farmers Market, 3500 block Woodbine Ave., between Gwynn Oak and Liberty Heights avenues. Saturdays 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Closes Dec. 22.
* Irvington Farmers Market, 4021 Frederick Ave., on municipal parking lot. Saturdays 6 a.m. to noon. Closes Dec. 22.
* Carroll County Farmers Market, Smith Avenue at Westminster Agricultural Center. Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Holiday goods. Closes Dec. 15.
* Frederick County Farmers Market, East Patrick Street at the Frederick Fairgrounds. Saturdays 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. All year except holidays.
* Woodsboro Livestock Sales, Route 194 in Woodsboro, Frederick County. Tuesdays 9 a.m. to noon. All year except holidays.
* Anne Arundel County Farmers Market, Riva Road at Harry S Truman Parkway. Saturdays and Tuesdays 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closes Dec. 8.