The clean, bright sun filtered a warm benediction down onto the Baltimore Farmers Market under the Jones Falls Expressway yesterday and the easy morning breeze spread the sweet aromas of early summer flowers and vegetables across the streets like an invitation to a feast.
Susanna and Louisa Zimmermann, tanned and lively as June bugs even though they got up at 3 a.m. to get here, fill bags with the fresh produce of Thanksgiving Farm in Frederick County: snow peas and sweet sugar peas and tart pie cherries picked Friday and a bewildering variety of dewy lettuce, green and crisp as new money and a whole lot better tasting.
The names resonate like a garden sonatina: Yugoslavian Yellow, a super, sweet delicate lettuce; Red Heirloom, a romaine romantic as your grandmother's daguerreotype; Green Ice, leaf lettuce lovely as a flower; Optima, very tender and buttery; Impuls, a lolla rossa with bite but no bitterness.
Susanna and Louisa's father, Harald Zimmermann, 53 and fit and tanned as his daughters, explains to a woman in cut-off denim shorts that the flower with orange-yellow petals around a dark brown core is an African daisy.
"What's their real name, Susanna?" he calls.
"Rudbeckia," replies Susanna, a bright 15-year-old who gets good grades going into the tenth grade.
All seven of the Zimmermann kids, who range in age from 29 to 10, are quick, smart, good-looking and hard-working. Louisa, 22, is the artist in the family and on the dean's list at Shepherd College, in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
The Zimmermanns are a farm family, but they're not hicks.
They've been coming to the Baltimore Farmers Market ever since it opened 19 years ago, and like many of the farmers who sell their produce here, they help make the market a wonderfully personal place to buy food each week.
Families are pretty much the rule at the downtown Farmers Market.
The Pahl family has been coming down from their farm in Granite since the market started at Market Place across from the old Fish Market, about where the old Marsh Market, or more correctly in Bawlmerese "Ma'sh" Market, used to be. And the Zimmermann kids virtually adopted Walter Bedford as their grandfather. Bedford and his kinfolk brought their smoked ham and bacon and fatback to that first market, too.
"He spends Thanksgiving and Christmas with us," Harald Zimmermann says.
Next to the Thanksgiving Farm slot, John Holz and his son, Sean, are just starting their second year with their Just-So-Dairy stand. They set out a modest table with chevre, goat's cheese, a goat mozzarella, and a Portuguese-style cheese that is a rich mixture of cow and goat milk.
"People are great," says Holz, who comes here from his farm in southern Anne Arundel County. "It's kind of nice to sell to the people you see and they appreciate what you do."
One of the great people, Mr. Turkey Joe Trabert, whose card identifies him as a "collector of things and stuff," and his wife, Sherry "like the wine," love the market.
"We've been coming down for 15 years," Trabert says. "We have a green bean man. We have a tomato man. The tomato men here are so fabulous.
"My pickle man's this guy and his mother who come up from the Eastern Shore," he says. "And we buy dill from the guy over there. You've got to have dill for pickles."
Lots of people seem to shop the market like the Turkey Joes, sampling a cucumber here and aturnip there and a red pepper next and endive and parsley and basil until they find their personal favorites, almost like single people scanning the personal columns.
The Zimmermanns have their share of loyal customers, who stop by every week to buy vegetables and flowers. Many have watched the children grow up over the years.
Darby, now 29, was a first-grader when the family began selling produce here. Melanie, now 26, was a toddler; Louisa was a baby. The others weren't even around yet.
Four of the Zimmermann seven were adopted. Shenandoah, 17, is the fifth girl. And there are two boys, Austin Harald, who is 14, and Terlawny Jeremiah, 10, and named for a favorite place in Jamaica. Their parents, Harald and Timothea, have a penchant for euphonious names.
They met in geology class at the University of Maryland. He studied economics and history. Timmy majored in ornamental horticulture and landscape design. They began their trek to Thanksgiving Farm with a peacetime Victory Garden in Greenbelt, where they had an apartment just after they got married nearly 30 years ago.
Harald worked 23 years for GEICO as a claims director before leaving three years ago to devote himself full time to the farm. Or perhaps fuller time, since he was already doing plenty of the heavy work before.
Every member of the family works the 57-acre farm.