Farm market season got off to a sunny start on Wednesday at the first market of the year outside Miller Branch Library in Ellicott City.
Fifteen vendors are planned for each of the three markets run by the Howard County Farmers Market Board: at the library in Ellicott City on Wednesdays, at Clarksville Commons on Saturdays and in Oakland Mills in Columbia on Sundays.
Twelve new vendors will be featured this season, according to market organizer Jamie Brown, who also owns TLV Farm in Glenelg and appears at all three markets.
During its inaugural season last year at the Clarksville Commons, the market appeared on Thursdays, but in an attempt to avoid heavy rush-hour traffic, Brown said they made the switch to Saturdays.
The Commons will have its grand opening on May 12, coinciding with the first day of the farmers market. Brown said he believes the market will complement the development's restaurateurs, who plan to sell breakfast while the market is open.
Two new vendors at Wednesday's market included Real Food Real Tasty, which specializes in homemade sauces, and BlueDyer Distilling Co. of Charles County.
BlueDyer owner Walker Dunbar said when he was deciding which markets across the state to attend this season, other local owners often suggested Howard County, because of both a strong customer base and community support.
"It seems like it's something the county wants here," Dunbar said. "I think it's going to be amazing."
Howard is home to six regular farmers markets spread throughout the county. Outside of the board's markets, the Wine Bin in Ellicott City and Maple Lawn host markets on Saturdays and the East Columbia Branch Library hosts a market on Thursdays.
Markets in the county and across the country have blossomed over the last two decades with the rise in popularity of farm-to-table menus and locally sourced foods. In 1994, the USDA reported there were 1,755 farmers markets in the U.S., last year they reported 8,687.
Customers at Wednesday's market were clear about why they choose local— it tastes better.
"The food's fresher," said Kristen Blount, an Elkridge resident who works at the Miller library and said she frequents the Wednesday market, or as she called it, "gelato day." Mike's Gelato, based in Dayton, is a staple at the market.
Blount is also trying out another "buy local" venture in the county, the Roving Radish meal kit program run by the county. Now in its fifth year, the program is a local take on popular national brands Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, which send meal kits and recipes to customers' homes. Unlike the national companies, customers pick up their meal kits from Roving Radish at one of nine locations across the county.
Roving Radish kicked off for the season last week, and agricultural coordinator James Zoller said customer numbers are up this year, helped in part because the program now offers vegetarian meal options. Last year Zoller said the program averaged 220 kits a week, this week they sold 378.
Blount took ingredients for last night's dinner, a spinach and artichoke lasagna. While she said she's tried Blue Apron and Hello Fresh in the past, she was turned off by the amount of packaged product in the kits. Roving Radish prides itself on sourcing the vast majority of its ingredients from Howard County farmers.
Roving Radish meals are also cheaper, a two-meal kit for a family of four costs $32 from the program, while Blue Apron's four-person plan for three meals a week costs $79.92.
"I wanted to try the convenience, but locally," Blount said.
Positive word of mouth has also helped promote the program, which last year bought $75,000 worth of produce and meat from county farms, Zoller said.
"We truly are buying from these guys and supporting our local farms."