Cups of coffee warming their hands, the two women hovered over pansies.
"I'm looking at the colors that remind me of my grandmother's garden. I'm deciding between the yellow and the white," said Malinda Peeples of Bolton Hill. "I'll probably get them both."
There was still a little room in her bags as Peeples made the rounds on Sunday, the first morning of the season at the city's farmers' market.
"I got olive oil, milk, eggs and flour and cilantro. And we got our coffee, of course, at Zeke's," she said. But she added that she and her guest, staying with her from India, had worked their way through only about half the market so far.
There was a chill in the air, but the 36th season opener at the Baltimore Farmers' Market & Bazaar nevertheless drew a hungry and hefty crowd Sunday morning beneath the Jones Falls Expressway, between Holliday and Gay streets. The market and bazaar will continue every Sunday through Dec. 22.
The largest producer-only farmers' market in Maryland, its stands were filled with everything from pansies to pickles to produce. The aroma of barbecue beef wafted through the air, mixed with smells from international foods and coffee.
"We are going to eat our way through the market," said Ebony Boykins of Hanover, holding curried lamb and chicken pockets for herself and partner Russell Heberle. The two had already purchased fish for later, but had barely hit the produce tables.
"I've been talking about it starting up," Boykins said of the market. "They have more today than I thought they would."
Heberle said he felt good about shopping there. "I like being back here and investing in the community. It helps them out, and they need that," he said.
Lettuces were being grabbed. At Bartenfelder Farms tables, beets stored over the winter were so popular that only a few containers remained by mid-morning, though more will be brought next week.
Shoppers meandered, sampled and made repeated trips to their cars, toting hanging flower baskets and vivid green organic lettuce container gardens, along with bags brimming with ground bison, dog treats, apples and more — some bags with pussy willow branches poking out.
First-timers and old hands — there were some new vendors as well — told one another the market's opening meant spring really had arrived.
Bella Gibbs of Bella's Goodies, selling antiques and collectibles, said business was brisk. Tamika Proctor, of the Wabash Avenue area, bought a clutch for $5 as her fiance ticked off a list of purchases that included a photograph of City Hall circa 1935, foods and lemonade. He quickly added, "We will do more shopping."
The crowd surged around 9:30 a.m., swarming stands and lining up for hot foods. Lines of 40 people or more were common. Before 10 a.m., many vendors happily found themselves with an evaporating inventory.
"We came here with 300 pies. This is what I have left," said Pietro DiGennaro, the crust guy of Dangerously Delicious Pies, pointing to fewer than a dozen that remained. In a few minutes, they too, were all but gone.
By the same time, representatives of a city tree giveaway — the goal is to increase Baltimore's green canopy — had handed off more than half of the 100 saplings hauled in.
Many food stands were vacant — the market should be at its full complement of vendors less than two months from now when warm-season produce becomes available — but curbs where those trucks would have been parked were mobbed with people sitting to snack.
Shana Yem and her boyfriend, Shawn Hedberg, who live near City Hall, munched on Thai egg rolls that would give them stamina for the falafel line.
"We wanted falafel," she said, vowing: "We will get falafel. But the line was too long."
"I am getting a big, fat, juicy sausage," Annette Reese, a radiology technician from Ellicott City, announced at midmorning as she prepared to smother her prize with barbecue sauce and onions. She had stood in line nearly 20 minutes to buy it. "It's like brunch. It's never too early to eat meat."
Or to shop. She'd already filled her car with herb, flower and vegetable plants to start her home garden, and couldn't resist a jar of honey, a jug of apple cider and packages of fresh meat, figuring she'd be leaving $100 lighter.
She is a newcomer to the area, and this was the first time she had been to this market. Her regret?
"I got here at 8," Reese said. "Next time, I'll get here earlier."
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