Phyllis Hahn knows how to spot fresh farm produce. Her husband used to truck just-picked fruits and vegetables from Anne Arundel County farms into Baltimore. These days, the two make it a habit of driving to farmers' markets around the state.
When she caught wind that the new Glen Burnie farmers' market would be dedicated Wednesday, Hahn and her husband, Peter, headed there from their Brooklyn Park home so she could get her hands on some plump blackberries, just tugged off the vine in Jug Bay.
She knew her purchase would be helping a county farmer. She also had a personal interest.
"I'm helping me. I want to stay healthy, along with my family," Hahn said.
County Executive Janet S. Owens and state Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley are among many who are also concerned about the health of the farming industry. Wednesday, they both helped celebrate the recent opening of the new Glen Burnie farmers' market - the sixth in Anne Arundel - and pointed to these venues as opportunities for farmers to grow a profit.
Raised on a South County farm, Owens has staked a personal interest in preserving thousands of acres of farmland and supporting the county's markets, from Deale and Annapolis to Piney Orchard and Severna Park. The market in Glen Burnie opened last month.
"We must preserve our farmers - you are an endangered species," she said moments before an 11 a.m. bell ring signaled the start of the business day.
Tony Evans, a South County farmer whose berries caught the eye of Hahn, also sold at least two kinds of peaches from his shaded stand. He worked for the state Agriculture Department for three decades, spending the final 12 years finding property and farmers to help develop these markets.
When patrons asked to purchase Evans' berries, he had a ready response: "Do you have a license to commit sin?" With berries that fresh, he said, it's almost a sin to enjoy them.
Regarding red haven peaches, the farmer had specific instructions for determining their ripeness. "Squeeze the top and bottom," Evans said. "When they sponge - give a little bit - it's saying, 'Hey, I'm ready.'"
County and state officials who provide food assistance to young families and the elderly want to use farmers' markets as a method of encouraging healthy living. Bolstered by federal funding, the state Agriculture Department provides counties with thousands of vouchers, mostly for expectant and new mothers, that can be redeemed at farmers' markets.
Part of the idea is to sow the seeds for children's eating habits.
"We want children to appreciate the taste of fresh fruits and vegetables. ... [These programs] help set up lifetime habits," said Frances B. Phillips, the county's health officer.
Hahn has long been hooked on farmers' markets. Just as soon as she bought those blackberries, she was off to another market. There were better deals to be had on peaches.
"Yes, sir, we're on our way to Carroll County," Hahn said. "I've got the cooler in the car."
The Glen Burnie Town Center Farmers' Market is located at Central Avenue and Platzer Lane. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Oct. 26. Information: www.aacounty.org/WhatsNew/farmersMarket.cfm