Cathy Shapiro

Cathy Shapiro holds some of the Java Ice Pops she makes to sell at area farmers markets. The Pikesville resident is part of a new breed of vendors selling a variety of products at the markets. (Satff photo by Jen Rynda / April 29, 2013)

The idea came to her in a dream. Yes, a dream. Cathy Shapiro dreamed about coffee-flavored ice pops, strange as that sounds, and then the Pikesville resident spent 18 months turning the dream into reality.

This summer, the public can taste the results of her dream, now called Java Ice Pops. Shapiro and her partner, Rebecca Dandy, a professional baker, founded Kismets LLC and are debuting the pops and another product, Beccaroons, named after Dandy.

The gourmet-flavored macaroons will be offered at three farmers markets: Pikesville and Towson, in Baltimore County, and the Carroll County market.

"It's a great way to introduce our product to the public," says Shapiro, who, so far, has presented the goodies at a charity event this winter where, according to her, they received rave reviews.

Shapiro is excited about the coming farmers market season. "I tried to keep the price reasonable," she says of the Java Pops, $3 and up, and Beccaroons, $3 for two, that are hand-made in a commercial kitchen in Carroll County.

"I bought an ice cream cart. I bought a trailer and painted it bright colors," she says. "I'm ready to rock and roll."

Maryland has 131 farmers markets running from May through November with 400 participating farmers and an uncounted number of vendors, such as Shapiro.

In 1991, Maryland had 20 farmers markets; in 2008, 88; and by last year, 128 markets were flourishing.

A recent poll by the state agriculture department showed that 77 percent of Marylanders prefer locally grown food, although these days farmers markets usually offer items well beyond traditional seasonal fruits and vegetables.

In the Baltimore metropolitan area, the Baltimore City farmers market, held Sundays under the Jones Falls Expressway bridge at Holliday and Saratoga Streets, is the mother of all markets. It will attract 10,000 visitors on a nice day.

That's not exactly the case for the three farmers markets in northwest Baltimore County — Pikesville, Randallstown and Greenspring Station. They have different expectations.

The Pikesville Chamber of Commerce manages the Pikesville farmers market and Ayme Lederman, a chamber staffer who jointly runs the market with executive director Jessica Normington, figures it usually only draws 200 to 300 visitors per week.

In an effort to boost attendance in its 13th year, organizers have found a new location and time: Pomona Square, on Reisterstown Road, 2 to 6 p.m. every Tuesday.

"We're highly visible, on the front parking lot," she says. "We're hoping that with the end-of-day hours, people will stop on their way home from work."

In an arrangement common among markets, Pikesville's 10 vendors sign a contract for the season and pay for their spot — $25 per week for two parking slots. Pikesville does not charge a management fee, although other markets may.

Also like other markets, Pikesville seeks a mix of vendors besides farmers. Because of its sizable Jewish clientele, some offerings are unique, like kosher apple cider and kosher honey.

New this year is a kosher lamb bacon vendor. "He found us," Lederman says.

The Liberty Road Business Association runs the five-year-old Randallstown farmers market. This year, the market is located at the Liberty Court Shopping Center, at Old Court and Liberty roads, a move intended to grow attendance beyond the usual 100 visitors per week.

Kelly R. Carter, the association's executive director, meets with the market's three farmers before it opens.

"They decide who's going to offer what, so we get a big variety of produce," says Carter, who also has vendors offering flowers, jewelry and all-natural skin products.