She runs a chic boutique a few blocks from Capitol Hill during the week, but this time of year, when Saturdays roll around, you'll find dyed-in-the-wool Washingtonian Debbie Danielson among those who work with the soil, not in a salon.
"We travel an hour for this lettuce," Danielson said recently at the Annapolis Freshfarm Market, several pounds of the fresh green stuff poking out of the plastic bags in her hands. "This is the most amazing food for the money. Do you see this? It's all under $20."
Danielson was one of dozens of regulars at the weekly outdoor market — and one of hundreds who visited the six major farmers' markets already open in Anne Arundel this past week — as the produce-stravaganzas swung into a new season in locations from the parking lot at Westfield Mall to the Piney Orchard Community Center in Odenton. (One more market was to open this weekend, another on Monday.)
Every market in the county is producer-only: Vendors sell only items they raise, grow or otherwise create, rather than dealing in foods imported from elsewhere.
"That way, people stay in touch with the natural rhythm of the seasons in what they eat," said Brenda Conti, market manager at the Westfield Annapolis market and a vendor at two others. "That's fresher and healthier, and the fresher your food is, the more vitamins and nutrition you're going to get from it."
The county's first market opened in 1981, and as newer sites have cropped up (and a few have faltered) over the years, the public's appetite for locally grown food has only gotten stronger, said Lisa Barge, agricultural marketing manager for the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. Local markets don't have the manpower to track the figures, but word of mouth suggests they're going strong even in a down economy.
"People are more and more aware of issues surrounding the quality of food, more interested in knowing where their food is coming from and whether it's safe," Barge said. "They can meet the farmer … and ask about the food they're purchasing. It's early, but I'm hearing that lots of customers are coming in."
At the Annapolis Freshfarm Market next to City Dock, two folk musicians played fiddle tunes last Saturday as boats bobbed in the water nearby. Shoppers checked out meat and eggs from Springfield Farm (Sparks), artisan breads from Quail Creek Farm (Hedgesville, W.Va.) and Dutch irises from Black Oak Cut Flowers (Edgewater).
And Danielson's favorite vendor, Linda Davis of Butter Pot Farm in Cambridge, came across like a neighbor chatting over the back fence.
She grows certified-organic produce on her 4-acre farm.
"Healthy food makes healthy people," she said, closing another lettuce sale. "We sell what we eat."
Wherever you live in the county, and whatever day of the week you want to shop, you can find a farmers' market in Anne Arundel. Here's a roundup:
Annapolis Freshfarm Market
Where: Donner Parking Lot, 100 Compromise St., Annapolis
When: Sundays, 8:30 a.m.-noon, through Nov. 22
Contact: Bernardine Prince, 202-362-8880; or market manager Tara Boyle, email@example.com; freshfarmmarket.org
Located in a parking lot just yards from the slip where the Stanley Norman, a historic Chesapeake Bay skipjack, bobs in Spa Creek, the market is one of 11 operated by D.C.-based Freshfarm. This one hosts nine vendors a week, one of which sells certified organic produce. Flowers, kettle corn, fresh cream and scones are available, in addition to meat and poultry grown in animal-friendly conditions, low-fat bison steaks and a wide range of fresh produce.
The market draws tourists, city residents and boaters stopping in to provision their crafts before heading out to the bay. On-street and garage parking are available.
Unusual twist: Many vendors donate unsold items to The Light House, a homelessness prevention center in Annapolis.
Anne Arundel County Farmers' Market
Where: Riva Road and Harry S. Truman Parkway, Annapolis
When: Saturdays, 7 a.m.-noon through Dec. 19; Tuesdays, 7 a.m.-noon, June 9-Oct. 27
Contact: Brenda Conti, 410-349-0317; http://www.aacofarmersmarket.com
The county's oldest and biggest market, the Anne Arundel County Farmers' Market made its name as a provider of county-grown fresh produce. It has recently added "a beef guy" and a few other new twists, but more than 60 percent of its nearly 100 vendors deal in fruits or vegetables. It will celebrate its 30th anniversary June 25 with a carnival.
"People come to Riva for the produce," said Brenda Conti, a longtime vendor whose business, Herbal Touch of Arnold, lends variety with raspberry applesauce and jellies made from local produce.
This market is restricted to county-based vendors. Buyers can find hundreds of types of lettuce as well as a profusion of bok choy, spinach, radishes, beets and strawberries that look "fantastic," the manager said, though she fears that three recent days of scorching heat might shorten their season.
Unusual twists: The county's only market held under a roof, it can draw 2,000 customers per day.
Anne Arundel Medical Center Farmer's Market
Where: Anne Arundel Medical Center Hospital Pavilion, 2001 Medical Parkway, Annapolis
When: Mondays and Fridays, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., June 6-Aug. 26
Contact: Charlotte Wallace, 410-349-0848; aahs.org
Not long ago, Charlotte Wallace, a pediatric nurse and chairwoman of the hospital's "green team," helped persuade officials to sponsor a farmers' market at which staff, visitors and community members could get healthy foods conveniently.
Originally set up across the street, the market has moved to the "inner loop" of the hospital, to a location in front of the hospital pavilion, and it's now a lunchtime affair. "That gives our staff, and everyone else, a chance to take a break during their lunch hour and browse," Wallace says.
Five confirmed vendors offer a range of items including organic and traditional produce; honeys, jams and jellies; baked goods; plants and herbs grown in a greenhouse at Providence Center, a support organization for adults with developmental disabilities. Wallace encourages visitors to park for free in Garage C.
Unusual twist: One vendor will be an elementary school whose garden will still be generating produce long after school ends.
Clock Tower Place Farmers' Market
Where: 1410 Forest Drive, Annapolis
When: Fridays, 4 p.m.-7 p.m., June 3-Oct. 28
Contact: Dori Ball, 410-269-6633
Open for a second year, this small but busy market — located in a parking lot on Forest Drive, a major artery for Annapolis commuters as well as people headed for the waterfront — features produce grown on Delaware, Virginia and Eastern Shore farms, not to mention specialty items such as locally roasted coffee and handmade Venetian-style glass jewelry.
The Sylmar Corp., management company for Clock Tower Place, makes no money by operating the market, said manager Dori Ball. "It's a service to the community," she says. "We want our neighbors to have a chance to have the healthiest food they can."
The location has proved convenient for between 300 and 400 customers a day during what often amounts to rush hour on a road that sees 50,000 cars a day. Parking is free.
Unusual twist: The market has no meat vendor because a butcher shop, My Butcher & More, is available in the shopping complex.
Deale Farmers' Market
Where: Cedar Grove United Methodist Church parking lot, 5965 Deale-Churchton Road, Deale
When: Thursdays, 3 p.m.- 6 p.m., July 7-Oct. 27
Contact: Gail Wilkerson, 410-867-4993
There are lots of roadside fruit-and-vegetable stands in farm-rich southern Anne Arundel, but if you want a variety of produce all in one place, it's hard to beat this friendly 11-year-old institution in the middle of Deale.
Featuring six vendors, it's smaller than some but well-rounded in its offerings, said Gail Wilkerson, who in addition to being market manager runs Wilkerson Farm in Tracy's Landing.
"We have good variety, [including] watermelon, beans, squash, cantaloupe, onions, peaches and raspberries, depending on the season," she said, as well as kale, persimmons and collard greens in the fall. Vendors also bring baked goods, meat and eggs, and jams and jellies in addition to cut flowers and herbs.
The biggest pleasure, though, might be the market's small-town feel. "People come and buy their produce, then hang around and talk," Wilkerson said of her customers, who number more than 200 when the weather's good. "It's a very happy place."
Unusual twist: Every vendor is located within five miles of the market.
Department of Natural Resources Farmers' Market
Where: DNR parking lot, 580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis
When: Thursdays, 3 p.m.-6 p.m., June 2-Sept. 29
Contact: Lisa Barge, 410-222-7410; dnr.maryland.gov
During an Earth Day event, DNR employees asked Lisa Barge, a visiting speaker, whether the county could help set up a market handy to their workplace. It could. This will be the third year of operation for this five-vendor market in a parking lot across from Navy-Marine CorpsMemorial Stadium.
On any given Thursday, workers from the local, county and state governments wander from their offices, often on their way home from work, to choose from a range of offerings: beef, pork and chicken, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, herbal products and more. "The basics," Barge said.
The market doesn't have a lot of space, but it ensures surprising variety by having three vendors on hand every week, then rotating a roster of specialty vendors through the other two spots. "That provides our clientele with a wider selection, including items you don't need each week," said Barge, such as honey, candy and coffees.
The market draws more than 100 people on a busy day.
Unusual twist: A part-time vendor offers homemade dog food.
Piney Orchard Farmers' Market
Where: Piney Orchard Community Visitors Center, 2600 Stream Valley Drive, Odenton
When: Wednesdays, 2 p.m.-6:30 p.m., June 1-Nov. 25
Contact: Bill Morris 410-867-9162
About 18 miles south of Annapolis, near Fort Meade, this market is in the parking lot of the community center at Piney Orchard, a planned community that is home to many military families.
Founded in 1993, the market is "small but diversified," said manager Bill Morris, who also owns Deep Cove Farm in Churchton. Three of the nine vendors sell produce, alongside a producer of beef, chicken and eggs, a baker and a specialist in jams and jellies. As the season progresses, offerings morph from leafy greens, heirloom tomatoes and corn into winter squashes, cabbage, kale and pumpkins.
The market has a neighborhood feel, as many customers stop in on their way to the community pool or on their way back from the new local elementary school. Morris keeps the market open until 6:30 p.m. to catch buyers getting home on the train from Washington or Baltimore.
Unusual twist: One seller offers "adult jams and jellies" — spicy stuff including Thai, habanero and chipotle jellies and hot raspberry and blackberry jams.
Severna Park Farmers' Market
Where: Ritchie Highway and Jones Station Road, Severna Park
When: Saturdays, 8 a.m.-noon, through Oct. 31
Contact: Anita Robertson, 410-924-3092
Founded in 1992 and going strong, this market is the county's second-oldest and, despite its small size, one of its busiest. "Every time I'm there, it's packed," said Barge, who attends when she's in the area.
The county official raves about the diversity of offerings.
"They're savvy to the fact that they need a good variety of vendors to keep customers coming back," she said of a market that offers fresh vegetables and fruits, free-range chickens and eggs, annual and perennial plants, and jams and jellies, along with specialty items such as soaps, painted gourds and pottery, all created in Maryland.
Unusual twist: Parking is never a problem: The market is located in a park-and-ride lot on a day when it's not otherwise in use.
Westfield Annapolis Farmers' Market
Where: U.S. 50 and Jennifer Road, Annapolis
When: Sundays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., through Dec. 31
Contact: Brenda Conti, 410-349-0317
If this market, located in the Sears Automotive parking lot at Westfield Mall, doesn't offer the county's widest variety of foods, it's close.
Many customers come to put together full meals, manager Brenda Conti said. Among the 18 vendors are farmers who bring beef, pork, turkey, chicken and eggs, another who brings milk and yogurt, and yet another who provides organic produce. Two bakers include one who works gluten-free. The pork provider sells homemade barbecue sauces and is licensed to grill some of his own products.
And for sweets? How about frog jam (made from local figs, raspberry, oranges and ginger) or maple syrup? "One little girl even [sells] designer popsicles she makes herself," said Conti.
The market goes indoors, to an area below the parking garage, for the winter, when it's possible to buy a range of crafts and candies as well as grapefruits, oranges and pineapples. (The county allows out-of-season fruits then because all sales raise funds for the market.)
Unusual twist: The market closes in November and December, when the mall can't spare parking spaces.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the start time for the Annapolis Freshfarm Market. The Sun regrets the error.