With the first of summer's bounty ripe for picking and the promise of a growing season stretching into fall, Carroll County's farmers' markets are brimming with berries, fresh vegetables, baked goods and herbs. Within weeks, as more crops come into season, stalls will overflow with sweet corn, watermelons and peppers.
Markets in Westminster and Taneytown as well as family farm stands throughout the county offer fresh-from-the-field goods, cut flowers and handmade crafts. In one stop, shoppers can find dinner entrees and sides, fresh flowers and beeswax candles for the table, and a handmade broom for the cleanup.
"These markets are the freshest source for local fruits and vegetables," said Gabe Zepp, the county's ag marketing specialist. "They are all on Saturday, when everyone is out and about."
Barbara Beverungen, Carroll's director of tourism, said farmers' markets offer open-air shopping for fresh foods, and a chance to connect with neighbors. She frequently visits the Carroll County Farmers' Market at the county Agriculture Center in Westminster.
"It is the kind of place where you can just strike up a conversation with somebody, while you get vegetables, crafts and beautiful cut flowers," she said.
Vendors have posted gross sales anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 for the market season, Zepp said.
"This is a good side income for these farmers," he said.
The Carroll County Farmers' Market, in its 34th year, opened last weekend with 40 vendors and thousands of shoppers, although no one has an official count. It runs 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through Sept. 3.
"We have more than 5,000 people on our mailing list from all over Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania," said Anita Bullock, who has been co-manager of the largest of the county's markets since 1983. "We have grown a lot. I think the country atmosphere, the friendliness of the vendors and the quality of the products keeps people coming back."
Jane Sussman, a vendor since the market opened, bakes about seven dozen assorted cakes each week. The most popular are Jewish apple and coconut layer, but demand has increased for apricot brandy and brunch cakes. Most sell for $10.
"Nothing fancy and only a few iced," helps Sussman cut down on her workload. "I love doing this. When the fun goes out, I will stop."
In Taneytown, Jane Leahy, who chairs the city's Main Street Farmers' Market, bakes cookies Thursday and bread all day Friday. She takes at least a dozen loaves to the Saturday market, along with coconut tarts, croissants and caramel popcorn.
One of 12 vendors, Leahy promises shoppers produce picked within 24 hours of the market's 8 a.m. opening, fresh eggs, lunch and containers to carry items home.
"We have our own Tupperware lady," she said.
The Downtown Westminster Farmers' Market began 12 years ago, soon after Greg Thorne, one of its original vendors, bought a farm near the city. He decorates his vegetable stand in wool products, which sell well, even on the hottest Saturdays.
"This is a producer-only market," Thorne said. "We only sell stuff that we ourselves produce."
Stan Ruchlewicz, administrator of economic development for the city, said the market is a boon to downtown merchants.
"It is a real added attraction for downtown," he said. "People come to the market and do the loop, wander through Main Street shops and have lunch at the deli."
The downtown market, at the Conaway South parking lot on Route 27, will soon add two new vendors: the Soap Lady of Frederick and Beechwood Orchards from Biglerville, Pa.
While most markets shut down by early fall, Thorne said he and several colleagues hope to keep the downtown venue open through November.
"It probably will be cold, but we can all dress warm in wool," Thorne said.
The county has published a farmers' market directory that includes harvest dates, special events and locations of 14 other privately owned markets. The brochure is available at area libraries and government buildings, and online at www.carrollag.org.