For Helene Lepkowski, the county's agricultural development officer, starting the Eastern Loudoun Farmer's Market four years ago was like planting a new crop in untested soil. Maybe it would grow, maybe it wouldn't.

This time, it did.

"There are some markets that take off with a bang," Lepkowski said. "This one wasn't like that . . . . It's been a slow buildup, and now I think it's doing very well."

Since 1987, when a few intrepid vendors first set up their stands at Northern Virginia Community College's Loudoun campus, the farmer's market has expanded to more than 30 vendors selling everything from frozen lamb to shiitake mushrooms to Virginia wine. Now open at the Countryside Commercial and Professional Center each Sunday through November, it draws crowds that begin lining up before 9:30 a.m. to get the best selection.

Mary Gail Swenson, of Countryside, said she waits for sweet corn, tomatoes, melons and baked goods -- breads, muffins and coffeecakes. "It's always fresh, and some of it's still warm," Swenson said. "I wish {the market was open} on Saturday and Sunday, instead of just Sunday."

Most vendors are from Loudoun County, although some come from as far away as Pennsylvania. Not all vendors come to the market each week.

Lepkowski said she began the market to provide commercial space for Loudoun farmers and to introduce them to the county's more urban residents.

"The people living in Eastern Loudoun can meet their Western Loudoun farm counterparts," Lepkowski said. "I think that's important."

A customer survey taken last year showed that 79 percent of the market's patrons live in Eastern Loudoun, including about 26 percent in Countryside. The rest come from Leesburg, Western Loudoun and Fairfax County.

A vendor survey showed the market took in about $97,000 in gross sales last year. This year Lepkowski expects a higher figure because there are more vendors and the market opened in late May instead of June.

About 70 percent of vendors were selling at least half the goods they brought to the market each week, the survey showed. About 45 percent said they often sold out.

Like the Saturday farmer's market in Leesburg, the Eastern Loudoun market is open to producers only. Some markets allow farmers to purchase goods and then resell them, but here they must grow everything they sell. That's part of the market's appeal, some farmers say.

"We think the key characteristic . . . is that people can only sell what they've produced," said Charles "Chip" Planck, who owns Wheatland Vegetable Farms of Purcellville with his wife, Susan. "We depend heavily on markets such as the Eastern Loudoun market."

The Plancks or their representatives sell vegetables at different markets in the Washington region each day. Charles Planck said the Eastern Loudoun market is "right in the middle range" of the dozens of farmer's markets in Virginia, Maryland and the District.

"It's getting there," Planck said. "The whole {Eastern Loudoun} market has gotten much bigger . . . . There's lots of competition."

"I'm doing about as well as I did last year, because we have so many vendors now," said Beverly Morton-Billand, who owns Patomack Herbal Farm of Lovettsville with her husband, Charles.

Unlike most farmers, she and her husband go only to the Eastern Loudoun market. They sell most of their goods wholesale and to restaurants, using the market as a way to directly introduce the public to their specialty wares. Those include herbal vinegars, pesto and elephant garlic, which is eight times larger and sweeter than regular garlic.

Morton-Billand said the market has been a challenge. "You don't know how much to take to a market . . . . You take a certain amount, hoping you sell a certain amount," but every week is different, she said.

"Some days you might sell three peppers and some days you might sell 30 pounds," said Judy Gerow, who owns Sunnyside Farm of Lucketts with her husband, Chris.

That doesn't matter so much to Wayne Swedenburg, owner of Valley View Farm and Swedenburg Winery in Middleburg. Swedenburg said he sells "a few cases," but goes to the Eastern Loudoun market because "it's very good P.R."

"It's primarily to meet people," he said. "Eventually, a lot of them come out to our winery."

Gerow, the Eastern Loudoun market manager, said an average of 20 vendors come to the market, which has a steady flow of customers in the four hours it is open.

"In the beginning, we had maybe five or six vendors and a few customers," she said. "We've been able to build a history with a lot of folks."