Reggie Bailey munched on a sausage breakfast sandwich at the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar on Sunday while his wife, Chavon, perused the Mt. Royal Soaps offerings and picked out a bar, called The Clean Bohemian, a sandalwood-scented soap with National Bohemian beer cooked into it.
Nakayla McCallum, 9, a fourth-grader at Baltimore Junior Academy, performed “Pogo Stick” and “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” on the violin with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids, an after-school music program for city youth. Her mother, Tamara McCallum, got them the last two Caribbean veggie samosas before the Curry Shack at the Market sold out Sunday.
The crowd who strolled underneath the Jones Falls Expressway downtown for the first Sunday of the market’s spring season was the biggest in the 40 years Joe Bartenfelder can remember. Bartenfelder Farms in Preston on the Eastern Shore sells kale, collard and mustard greens, pansies in hanging baskets and other plants at the market.
“It’s the best I’ve seen it for opening day,” he said. “It was a buying crowd. Sometimes you get a crowd that just looks and walks by. They were walking and looking — and wanted to buy.”
Bartenfelder, who left Caroline County about 3:30 a.m. to set up his market stall in Baltimore by 6 a.m., said his goods on the first day were limited to what he had in the greenhouse from over the winter. As the spring and summer arrive, so will a wider variety of herbs and plants.
“Every week you come now, you’ll see something different and new,” he said.
The farmers market, hosted by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts at Holliday and Saratoga streets, is open 7 a.m. to noon every Sunday until Dec. 22. Eighteen new vendors have joined the market in its 42nd year.
The Migue’s Minis doughnuts were the main draw for Reggie Bailey, 51, of Reisterstown.
In addition to the doughnuts, the breakfast sandwich and the soap, the Baileys also picked up eggs, fresh produce and “gidgey-gadgets,” as Reggie Bailey called the market’s non-food goods.
“I’m not here for the soap,” he said. “I’m here for the food. And it’s a beautiful day.”
“To support local business is so important,” Chavon Bailey, 43, added.
Michael Lin and Laura Lopez, of Falls Church, Virginia, waited in line to buy a spicy chicken steamed bun at Ekiben. The Baltimore market was much larger and more diverse than those in Washington, D.C., they said.
Other Sundays might be less crowded than the first of the year, said Lin, 49.
But the Hopkins graduate said the first day of the season was “a good time to pay a visit to the city I love.”
Lin dismissed the recent news of Mayor Catherine Pugh taking a leave of absence to recover from pneumonia amid a scandal over hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of her “Healthy Holly” book sales to the University of Maryland Medical System, where she was a board member, and to other prominent organizations doing business with the city, as “noise.”
“Life is filled with chaos anyway,” he said. “If you tune it out, life is still pretty good.”
It’s been a difficult few years for the city, said Berna Taylor, 59, of White Marsh. She gave up her Orioles season tickets this year after four or five seasons due to safety concerns based on how far she has to walk from the place where she parks.
But the farmers market is a constant, she said.
Her granddaughter, Tatiana Taylor, 4, of White Marsh, had a bird’s-eye view of the market, from the shoulders of the little girl’s grandfather, Tim Taylor. They smiled as Tatiana’s mother, Tameka, took their picture.
“It’s phenomenal to see everybody come together, despite what’s going on,” said Berna Taylor.
For the past 10 years, the Taylors have been regulars at the market — so much so that they greet some of the vendors with hugs and Christmas presents. Zeke’s Coffee, in particular, is a family favorite and usually their first stop upon arrival, they said.
The eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, okra, ramps and other fresh food almost allow David Lucas, 54, of Baltimore to avoid the grocery store all summer.
“It’s our routine from opening day till closing day,” he said. “It’s one of those things that sets us straight for the week. … It’s a little lean in the beginning. We’re looking forward to ramps, early greens, things like that.”
Lucas, a commercial photographer, said the “Healthy Holly” scandal was “the usual” for Baltimore in its appearance of political corruption but “mind-blowing” in the details of the case — a mayor accepting money from companies doing business with the city for anti-obesity children’s books to be distributed to schools.
“In this specific case, I was shocked,” he said.
Katy and Josh Robinson stood with 2-year-old Keziah in a stroller near the back of a long Beef Barons queue.
The Owings Mills couple planned to try some of the market’s food — and maybe introduce their company, Chef Pablo Spices, to some of the vendors and suggest a partnership. Both said they liked the positive vibe the market brings to the city, which has surpassed 300 homicides in each of the past four years.
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“It’s great to see Baltimore booming,” said Josh Robinson, 31, a native of West Baltimore. “It’s time to get some real change, get some honest people in there, and checks and balances. We need honest people in power.”