Under an overcast morning sky, Carole Ruppel carried basil herbs, fresh spinach, potatoes, cabbage and onions, and an apricot brandy pound cake, the latest haul from more than two decades of almost weekly shopping trips to her local farmers' market.
For Ruppel, 68, of Westminster, the fresh produce, baked goods and potential Christmas presents at the Carroll County Farmers' Market's have led to hundreds of visits to the market's county Agriculture Center location since 1985.
That year, she first heard about the market while scouting home locations in Carroll for a move from Catonsville. Out of curiosity, she attended and became hooked.
On June 24, the Carroll County Farmers' Market, the oldest in the county and second oldest in Maryland, celebrated its 35th anniversary.
That longevity, said some patrons and vendors, comes from the market's popularity with repeat customers, whose loyalty derives from a unique, comfortable setting and amiable local merchants.
"I think they like the friendliness and the atmosphere," said Anita Bullock, who has managed the market for 20 years and has sold baked goods, produce and jelly there since 1975.
"They see a lot of neighbors and friends here, [and] they like the personal touch of dealing directly with the vendors," Bullock said.
Dana Gilmore, who has been a merchant there since 1972, credits the market as key to building her business. About one-third of the mailing list for her Littlestown, Pa.,-based Dana's Flower & Garden Place consists of Maryland customers she believes originated at the market, she said.
"People like to meet you; they like to talk to you, and if they like you, they'll buy your product," Gilmore said. "You develop an ongoing relationship over the years with your customers. If you have a place of business, they'll come to your business because they liked what they saw here."
The market - especially the food - made an impression on Mike Brooks, who was shopping with his wife, Leslie. Although they have lived in Westminster for 15 years, they were visiting the market for the first time. They hope to return a couple more times this summer.
"It's great, from what I see," said Mike Brooks. "The food looks fantastic. I love fresh produce."
The fresh produce is the main attraction in the summer, and a major contributor to the market's growth, said Don Buhrman, who has been a crafts vendor there intermittently since 1971.
Buhrman, of Uniontown, sells stoneware and porcelain pottery, and he uses the summer produce season to build customer familiarity for the Christmas market that runs in November and December, he said.
Joining Buhrman in crafts sales is Anne Marie Rose, 17, of Finksburg, who launched Picture Perfect Jewelry at the market last November.
Rose's table, which holds jewelry she made with sterling silver and semiprecious stones, sits adjacent to that of her mother Cecelia Rose, who offers wreaths and baked goods, including baked goods for diabetics.
"A lot of things here are one-of-a-kind," said Anne Marie Rose. "I think people really appreciate that because they're used to store-bought items. The prices are great, everything's handmade and hand-grown."
Pat Wolf, a weekly market customer for 12 years, said she prefers the prices at the market to those at larger retail outlets.
"It's just a good place to shop," said Wolf, of Taylorsville, as she purchased pottery from Buhrman. "It's really good for the local economy."
For Woodbine farm owner Janet Cleary, the market has contributed about one-third of her sales.
"It's been a steady, reliable business," said Cleary, who has sold plants, vegetables, cut flowers and baked goods at the market for 32 years. "It's a nice, friendly place to be. You get to know everybody, [and] everybody gets to know you."
The summer farmers' market is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday until Sept. 2. Information: 410-848-7748.