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BLOOMINGTON -- An estimated 1,750 people braved rain and a temperature in the mid-40s Saturday to attend the first farmers market of the season in downtown Bloomington.

"There was a lot of buzz and excitement for opening day," said Marisa Brooks, one of the event's organizers.

About 50 vendors set up shop in the streets around the McLean County Museum of History, she said.

"I think we're established to the point people know we are here, rain or shine. And enough people were starved for fresh produce that they were ready to come out," added Brooks.

Many in attendance said they were anxious to start spring in earnest by shopping for garden plants, fresh produce and baked goods.

"It's been a long winter. It's nice to get out," said Vicki Holland of Wapella.

Joe Rodts and his wife, Beth, of Normal said it was worth bringing their two young children to find the organically grown food that is a staple of the market.

"We try to get as much fresh food as we can, especially with the kids, and we get organic stuff, so it's good to have it in one place - and it's more affordable than some places," said Joe Rodts.

Kathy Brown of Brown's Produce in Bloomington was impressed with the crowd, which was ready to go when the market opened at 7:30 a.m.

"Your farmers market people are diehards. They are a hardy crowd. They'll come if it's raining, and in the fall when it's 40 degrees they'll be here," said Brown, adding she has seen all kinds of weather - including snow - in the five years she has worked at the weekly market.

Brooks said vendors come from as far away as LaSalle-Peru and Shelbyville to sell their wares.

She said crowds likely will swell to 3,000 when the weather improves.

Opening day included the kickoff for WGLT's Good To Go Commuter Challenge. The Illinois State University-based radio station is encouraging commuters to ride buses and bikes as much as possible during the weeklong challenge.

The farmers market, which is organized by the Downtown Bloomington Association, will run through October, and a Thanksgiving market will be Nov. 19 at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum.

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