Like the weather, the farmers' market season is heating up.
About 60 percent of the markets across Maryland are open and more are popping up each week, said Joan Schulz, a farmers' market administrator with the state Department of Agriculture.
By the end of the month, all 77 markets - at least one in every county - will be bustling with activity as farmers park their tractors and bring fresh-from-the-garden produce to town.
And it is that connection to the farm that appeals to market patrons, Schulz said.
"People want to know more about their food and where it comes from," Schulz said. "At the farmers' market, they can talk to the farmer who grew it. You can ask about their use of pesticides or whatever else is on their mind."
The markets that open early in the season usually offer potted plants, hanging baskets of flowers, bedding plants and a selection of early-season produce, including kale, salad greens, spinach and asparagus.
"Some homegrown tomatoes are now beginning to show up," Schulz said of greenhouse-grown tomatoes that are tastier than those shipped from California and offered year-round at grocery stores.
The local offerings change as the season progresses, with the weather influencing when certain fruits and vegetables are ready for market.
It is too soon to say for sure, but this year's cool spring might lead to a delay in the arrival of some products to the market, Schulz said.
In a typical year, sweet cherries come to market in early June and sweet corn is typically ready for harvest by July 4. Cantaloupes and peaches should make an appearance by mid-July. Watermelons usually come to market in early August, followed by apples.
Some markets add a little pizazz. The Twilight Market in Bel Air, open from 5 p.m. to dusk on the last Friday of the month, offers farm produce, live music, wine by the glass from a local winery and pit-cooked ham, beef and turkey.
"It's a festival atmosphere," Schulz said of the market, held at Rockfield Manor at 501 Churchville Road.
Maryland consumers prefer to purchase produce grown by local farmers and are willing to pay a higher price for it, according to a public opinion survey done this year by the University of Baltimore.
The study, by the school's Schaefer Center for Public Policy, revealed that slightly more than 75 percent of the adults surveyed said they would be more likely to buy produce identified as having been grown by Maryland farmers.
To the benefit of farmers, it is a growing trend. Last year, 57 percent of the consumers expressed a desire to purchase homegrown farm produce.
Not quite half of the respondents - 48 percent - expressed a willingness to pay at least some premium for produce that would support Maryland farmers.
One new market opened this year, Schulz said. The market in Walkersville in Frederick County is open Wednesdays and is scheduled to operate until Sept. 26.
The number of farmers willing to participate limits the number of markets in Maryland, Schulz said.
About 280 farmers take their goods to the current markets, she said, with some attending five or six markets a week. Schulz said she gets requests from communities for the establishment of markets but does not have the farmers needed to supply them.
"Everybody wants one in their community, but they need to do their homework," she said. "The communities usually do a survey and ask if people want a farmers' market. But that's not the right question. They should be asking if they would be willing to spend $15 a week at a market. It takes money to support a market. Farmers have to travel some distance, and, at today's fuel prices, that can be expensive. Their tractors need gas too. It needs to be profitable for the farmer."
A list of the farmers' markets in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Consumers can call for addresses, days of operation and hours.
Anne Arundel County farmers' market. Phone: 410-987-6034.
Deale farmers' market. Phone: 410-867-0900.
The Centre at Glen Burnie farmers' market. Phone: 410-222-7410.
Piney Orchard farmers' market. Phone: 410-867-9162.
Severna Park farmers' market. Phone: 410-827-9192.
South River Colony farmers' market. Phone: 410-349-0317.
Baltimore farmers' market. Phone: 410-752-8632.
Highlandtown farmers' market. Phone: 410-342-3234.
Howard Park farmers' market. Phone: 410-466-2124.
Park Heights Community farmers' market. Phone: 410-542-8190.
32nd Street/Waverly farmers' market. Phone: 410-889-6388 or 410-917-1496.
Village of Cross Keys farmers' market. Phone: 410-592-6095.
Catonsville farmers' market. Phone: 410-719-9609.
Dundalk Village farmers' market. Phone: 410-282-7724.
Eastpoint farmers' market. Phone: 410-284-6695.
Farmers' market at the Avenue. Phone: 410-931-0411, Ext. 100.
Pikesville farmers' market. Phone: 410-484-8987.
Towson farmers' market. Phone: 410-825-1144.
Carroll County farmers' market. Phone: 410-848-7748.
Downtown Westminster farmers' market. Phone:410-848-5294.
Taneytown farmers' market. Phone: 410-756-4628.
Cecil County farmers' market at Elkton. Phone: 410-996-6292 or 800-232-4595.
Cecil County farmers' market at Chesapeake City (South). Phone: 410-996-6292 or 800-232-4595.
Bel Air farmers' market. Phone: 410-692-0403.
Edgewood farmers' market. Phone: 410-679-2997, Ext. 203.
Havre de Grace farmers' market. Phone: 410-939-3303.
Twilight Market at Rockfield Manor. Phone: 410-838-6181, Ext. 114.
Howard County farmers' market at the east Columbia library. Phone: 410-346-6215.
Howard County farmers' market at the Glenwood library. Phone: 410-596-3456.
Howard County farmers' market at Mount Pisgah AME Church. Phone: 301-934-9004.
Howard County farmers' market at Oakland Mills. Phone: 301-934-9004.
For the complete list of markets in Maryland, visit the Department of Agriculture Web site, mda.state.md.us.
Source: Maryland Department of Agriculture