Just at sunrise, as the chickens begin to cluck and rustle around the henhouse on the edge of the woods, Fred Schuyler gets up, pours himself a cup of coffee and climbs onto his tractor to work the rows of corn and potatoes in the field near his home.

In a few hours, he will be talking software and flowcharts, riding a desk in the controller's office at the Department of Energy. Designing management systems is Schuyler's principal job.

But after work, he hurries home to get in a little more work while it is still light.

Schuyler is a farmer, the kind that county agents call "sundowners."

Each day that weather permits, hundreds of small-scale, part-time growers living on the outer fringes of the metropolitan area come home from their jobs, shed their business suits and spend the hours until sundown raising crops for the commercial market.

"They're second-job farmers, doing it because they like to do it. And there's been a large increase in the numbers of people doing it," said Montgomery County Horticultural Agent Richard Biggs.

In Prince George's County, too, there are "people capitalizing on a very good market in an urban area of urbanites who want fresh produce," said Prince George's County Agent Dave Conrad.

The sundowners usually sell the fruits and vegetables of their labors in farmers' markets, from trucks or cardtables by the side of the road or through "pick-your-own" operations. The foods they raise are typically fruits, berries, and vegetables -- crops that require substantial labor but produce a high yield per acre and don't require huge parcels of land.

"We don't get much income from it but what we do get, quite frankly, is going to help with our fuel bills," Schuyler said. Schuyler takes eggs and vegetables that he raises at his home near Darnestown to the Montgomery County farmers' market in Silver Spring.

Some sundowners, including the Brooklyn-raised Schuyler, are children of the cities. Others grew up on the farms they now support with second jobs.

Edgar Cobb was "born and raised" on the farm near Clifton, Va., that he now rents and works on a part-time basis. Cobb is a rural route letter carrier and expects the land will be developed soon. "It's already been rezoned," he said.

But in the meantime, he raises tomatoes, peppers, beans, corn and "some squash and cukes" on about 50 acres and sells the vegetables from his house. "I've got a good-sized group of customers if I can just get the produce," said Cobb.

Ralph Richards, a supervisor at the Prince George's County landfill lives on a farm that he said "has been in my family for 100 years. My uncle worked it. Then after he died, I got it from him."

Richards raises corn, watermelons, tobacco and a few animals on his 85 acres. On winter nights after work, he strips tobacco by hand and he uses vacation days to bale hay.

For both city-bred and country-bred sundowners, the attraction of farming is a mixture of tangible and intangible rewards.

"A hundred or two hundred years ago, children saw what their parents produced," Schuyler said. "How can I explain to my kids what I do at DOE? I can hardly explain it to myself -- or to you." In contrast, the hours he spends in his field or in a nearby orchard produce visible, edible rewards.

Debbie Goldberg, who runs a pick-your-own raspberry patch near Laytonsville, found farming a part-time job better suited to her family's needs than working part time as a registered nurse.

"I'm so thrilled living in the country," said Goldberg, who grew up in a Washington row house. "I just always loved the country," Goldberg and her family planted almost 4,000 raspberry bushes by hand. The Goldbergs expect eventually to own 74 acres of a 574-acre farm that is being divided up into "farmettes," Goldberg said.

Many growers start out with a large garden for their own use and find they can easily grow more than they need, Biggs said. Biggs is a sundowner himself, raising peaches and strawberries on his farm near Damascus in his hours away from his job as a county agent.

"I think there's a lot of room for this type growing," said Biggs. "I don't think any of them will produce a tremendous amount of fresh produce, but I think the number of people doing it is going to produce a large increase in fresh fruit and vegetable production in the county.

"Demand is always going to be way above the possible supply."

County agents warn prospective growers, however, to start out modestly.

"So many of these people doing it never had any farm experience at all, Biggs said. "They never thought of all the things that can go wrong. What we do is try to keep them from going into full production right away."

Some crops, such as tree fruits, require large amounts of pruning and spraying, work that may take more time and energy than part-time growers are willing to invest, agents warned.

"There are a lot of things that haven't been tried," Biggs said. He suggested raspberries, blueberries and asparagus as potential moneymakers. "If people want to do it, it can be done. You just have to start slow and learn what's best for you and your time schedule."

But growing isn't the perfect parttime job for everyone who tries it.

"I consider myself a weekend farmer, and I've found it doesn't pay," said David Anderson, a retired Air Force colonel who now directs an avionics Laboratory at Andrews Air Force Base.

Anderson said he misjudged his ability to do the work required to raise peaches and grapes on 45 acres near Aquasco. He plans to hire a fulltime farmer to take over his chores.

"I come home tired, and I don't feel like busting my butt on the tractor," he said.