Beneath cloudless blue skies and to the sound of radios estimating the weather to reach as high as 80 degrees, the 17th annual Herndon Farmers' Market began its 2006 season Thursday on Lynn Street in historic downtown Herndon.
Featuring farmers from central Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania with a range of products from fresh meats to home-grown herbs, the Farmers' Market operates from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Thursday, and will continue until Oct. 26.
"It's almost like a big social event," said John Dudzinsky, of the Community Development Department and manager of the market. "The people like the vegetables, the fruits, the fresh flowers and talking to the growers... they love to come out."
The market also features a "plant clinic" run by the Master Gardners of Fairfax County where local horticulturalists can bring their plants and planting problems for free analysis and advice.
THE MARKET OFFERS something for anyone interested in fresh products, even for the non-vegetarians, Dudzinsky said.
Shannon Donley of Fertile Plans Custom Pork, who will drive for an hour every Thursday from their farm near Harper's Ferry, W.Va. to attend the market, made his debut appearance in Herndon on Thursday to kick off the 2006 season.
"It's our sausages, we try to keep 'em lean," Donley said of his most famous product as he rested a foot on a cooler packed with fresh meats. "The sweet and Italian sausages are nice because the people can just throw 'em on the grill and they're ready in minutes."
"There's really no comparison to the freshness and quality you get."
Reid's Orchard, a perennial participant at the Market will be returning to Herndon along with its bushels and boxes featuring a different, and oftentimes rare, apples and tomatoes, according to the Maggie and Caitlin Reid, the sisters who were managing the stand on Thursday.
"Right now we're doing herbs," said Maggie Reid as she lined up the trays of fresh, live herbs, ready to be planted. "But we have all the berries ... and about 150 types of heirloom tomatoes."
"They're an old variety of tomatoes that are not crossed with any other types and are very pure. Some are from the old world," she said.
"They all have a history," added Caitlin Reid.
"We offer oddball, niche-type fruits and things," Maggie Reid said. "We have things like gooseberrys and, like, 90 different type of apples."
Maggie Reid said that she especially enjoys the Herndon market because of the connections she has been able to forge with the residents who come to her family for their produce.
"This particular one is great with kids because it gives the kids a chance to get out and get educated on different fruits and vegetables and they can learn about more healthy foods," she said.
"All this is very fresh, it's picked within two days of us selling it," Maggie Reid said, "and you get a relationship with the customers and the people and that's really great."
THIS RELATIONSHIP IS so great that the sisters from Reid's Orchard will make the two-hour trek each Thursday from the Gettysburg area of Pennsylvania, where their orchard is located, to attend the market.
It's that connection among other things that makes the market so popular with residents, according to Sandra Stickovitch from Chef Elloy's Kickin' Salsas of Sterling, who sells all-natural, authentic salsas at the market.
"People are looking for quality products for their families, they want fresh, wholesome products," said Stickovitch. "Over here you see the faces and you really get to know the people you're serving."
"I've come out to the ones in the past several times ... we love the fresh fruit and vegetables," said Andrea Ashton of Great Falls. "It's the homegrown produce. You know what you're getting."
"It's more homey and personal ... and the [sample] tastings are great too," Ashton said with a laugh. "It's great for kids, too ... it's a good source of education, it teaches them about the different kinds of fresh vegetables and how the plants are grown."