Shoppers looking for farm-fresh produce, unique home-made products, preserves or still-warm baked goods can find a wide selection at farmers' markets. The Anne Arundel County Farmers' Market in Annapolis, one of four in the county, is no exception, offering residents a sense of community and high-quality, locally grown products.
The county-sponsored market in Annapolis is celebrating 20th year. It is the longest-running market in the county and usually has more than 40 vendors and more than a thousand customers on any given Saturday in the height of the smmner season.
"Since our 20-year celebration on June 23, things have really picked up," says Martin Zehner, a grower participating in the market. "Saturdays can be so busy that we've had to hire someone to keep traffic in order. It can be like trying to get a herd of cattle where you want."
The county's other three farmers' markets are Severna Park, established in 1992; Piney Orchard, established in 1994; and Deale, established this year.
"There is more demand for farmers' markets than supply," says Tony Evans, an organizer of the Severna Park venue and farmers' market coordinator with the Maryland Department of Agriculture. "We just don't have enough farmers to open more markets."
Though it is the newest, the Deale Farmers' Market drew more than 200 people each day, says Connie Hirschmann, a market organizer and member of the local Alliance for Rural Business, one of three co-sponsors of the market.
"Everyone was cheerful and smiling" she said. "It has really turned into a meeting place where once a week we catch up with our neighbors who we might not see all the time. The market really exemplifies what this area is - a small town with a small-town feel."
All of the growers at the Annapolis market are from Anne Arundel County. Many sell their goods only at the markets, where they make a large portion of their incomes. They are able to go to one market Thursday, a second Saturday, and a third Tuesday. That encourages consistent, repeat customers for their fresh, seasonal products.
A visible and accessible location is critical to a market's success. The Annapolis market is at Riva Road and Harry S. Truman Parkway, a busy intersection near residential areas and state and county offices. This makes for regular customers and random first-time customers.
"I come this way for a meeting once a month but have never noticed the market being open," said Nilda Musiker, an Anne Arundel County Public Library employee. "I am early today and the market is open, so I stopped in.
Farmers build a loyal clientele by offering firsthand knowledge of the products they sell. Shoppers can ask questions about each offering: When was it picked? Were pesticides used? What do I need to grow it at home? How do I prepare it?
Evans calls farmers "'the ambassadors of agriculture.' They put a human face on the food we eat."
The markets also change with the seasons. In the fall, shoppers will find cabbage, broccoli, cauliftower, pumpkins, kale, collards, winter squash, mums and a dozen or so varieties of apples -and the baked goods, preserves and craft items that are available all year.
"October is a tricky month," Evans saId. "If the weather is right, then some tomatoes and summer squash will hold on, adding to the variety."
Though the Deale, Severna Park and Piney Orchard markets close in late October, farmers can take fall vegetables, preserves, baked goods and decorative items to the Annapolis market. Autumn decorations such as cornstalks and gourds and holiday items are available through December. From Nov. 24 through Dec. 22, vendors gear up for the holidays with their Christmas Market.
After the Anne Arundel County Farmers' Market closes for the season, shoppers can mark their calendars for spring opening.
A list of 65 Maryland farmers' markets statewide can be found at www.mda.state.md.us.