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As the state's 74 farmers' markets open - including Towson's, which opened yesterday - Marylanders' options grow for local produce.


After browsing tables filled with all manner of zucchini and flowers and collard greens and red, juicy strawberries yesterday, Kelly O'Brien made her picks.

She bought some of those strawberries to share with office mates, a big bag of spinach for dinner and sweet croissants - well, just because.

O'Brien's trip to the Towson Farmers' Market was anything but planned. After all, she woke yesterday thinking the opening was at least a week away.

But a late-morning call to the market sponsor - the Towson Business Association Inc. - corrected that misconception. By early afternoon, O'Brien, 26, was strolling along Allegheny Avenue, hands full of purchases.

"It's just the deals," said O'Brien, an information specialist for a Towson engineering firm. She shot off an e-mail to curious co-workers after learning of the opening. "It's awesome - fresh stuff and great prices."

O'Brien was in familiar company yesterday. The opening of the Towson market marked the beginning of an every-Thursday summertime ritual.

No longer would lunch be a passive affair for the businessmen and women who work in Towson's core. With fresh, brightly colored produce and flowers beckoning from tables along Allegheny Avenue, workers used their lunch breaks to shop, picking up dinner, snacks and flowers for loved ones.

"This is a very fast-paced market. People have limited time," said Dave Reid of Buchanan Valley, Pa.-based Reid's Orchard, a vendor.

For many Marylanders, markets like the one in Towson are the closest thing to harvesting their own fruits and vegetables - a fact that makes those in urban areas immensely popular, said Joan Schulz, farmers' market coordinator for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

"At the farmers' market, you're the second owner. The farmer is the first owner," she said. "You can't say that about anything in a grocery store, really."

The 74 markets across the state each have unique characteristics, she said. Some, like the Baltimore market under the Jones Falls Expressway, open early in the season and draw large weekend crowds.

Others in more rural areas where many residents grow their own produce may be less popular, she said.

By early next month, all of the markets will be open, augmenting their offerings as different crops ripen throughout the summer. Later, markets will feature first cucumbers and peppers, then sweet corn and tomatoes.

But not yet.

"They're coming. The long days and the warm weather makes them grow," said George Breidenbaugh of Breidenbaugh Farms in Glen Arm.

Yesterday's opening of the Towson market brought out County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who used the event to make speeches plugging the area and a new county marketing initiative for older business centers.

It also brought out a handful of sign-toting protestors opposed to a proposal that would place an off-campus dormitory for Towson University students near the Towson roundabout, just blocks from the market.

"This was just something [where] we had an opportunity to voice our opposition to the folks on that platform," said Dale Trabona, pointing to Smith and Gardina.

She and her husband, Vince, who live in a nearby condominium complex, planned to browse the market, she said, once the speeches were done.

"We always come to shop," she said.

Robert E. Latshaw Jr., who owns a real estate agency nearby and had heard about the planned protest, brought his own signs - a counterprotest of sorts declaring support for the college's students.

"We want more customers for our Towson businesses," he said.

The market, in its 26th year, attracts about 3,000 people on any given Thursday, said Suzan Doordan, executive director of the Towson Business Association.

"It draws people in," she said. "That's what we want."

The Towson Farmers' Market is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Thursday through Nov. 3.

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