06/01/2008 05:27PM ● Published by Anonymous
Farmers sell their harvests Wednesdays between 3 and 7 p.m. in a parking lot near the traffic circle at Maiden Lane and Ray Avenue. If you know how to get to Festival Park and the city’s Headquarters Library, you will have no problem finding the farmers. The lot lies just over the railroad tracks from Festival Park near the banks of Cross Creek.
By now, summer gardens will be producing tender lettuces, crisp radishes, juicy cucumbers, onions, garlic, several varieties of squash and a host of other tasty vegetables. The strawberries are likely finished for the year, but the blueberries should be plump and ready about now. And the early tomatoes will be coming off the vine, too. Interested in heirloom varieties? Arnie Allen and his daughter, Melissa Rodriguez, who tend a 1.5-acre garden at Raft Swamp Farms in Hoke County, were selling young tomato and pepper plants last month. They were offering heirloom tomatoes with names like Arkansas Traveler, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple (which really produces purple fruit) and Green Zebra (which really produces fruit with stripes). They will be selling the fruit from these varieties through the summer as well, so why not add a little diversity to that summer salad?
As the season progresses, watch for sweet corn, butter beans, peaches and melons, including watermelon, honeydew and some special dessert varieties. Look for some organic offerings, too. Many of the farmers who sell at the downtown market offer organic produce.
“We grow everything organically,” Allen said. “The public is becoming much more aware of what they eat: local food, organic food. We’ve seen a change.”
John Council and his family tend five acres at their Hoke County farm in Shannon. Peruse their tables, and you will find a wide array of vegetables, from string beans to black-eyed peas, cabbages and lettuce. Be sure to ask about their free-range eggs and organically produced meats and chicken. Those products can be hard to find, even in the most upscale grocery stores.
Allen said he and Rodriguez cut the vegetables Wednesday mornings, right before they drive in to the market. The same goes for the other farmers who sell at the market, so you won’t find fresher food anywhere – unless it grows in your own backyard.
Early June is also the beginning of the local honey flow, so jars of liquid gold will start showing up at the market. Vickie Mullins, the market president, is a beekeeper and one of several farmers who sell honey at the market. Mullins said this year she plans to sell some homemade beauty products made with honey and other bee products.
The market offers some nice surprises, depending on the season, the weather and the creativity of the growers and sellers. Leanna Hale, a 19-year-old entrepreneur, is also a beekeeper and gardener. She bakes and sells a variety of homemade breads, including zucchini bread and high-protein Ezekiel fasting bread, and she crafts batches of old-fashioned jams and jellies with fresh, in-season fruit.
Mullins said the market is well-established and getting stronger each year. This year, about seven or eight farmers will sell at the market, and they’re always looking for others to join the effort. After last year’s drought, she and the other market regulars said they are hoping for a better year. With a little luck and a lot of rain, she believes the crops – and the market – will thrive.
For a list of what’s in season in, visit www.ncagr.com/markets/chart.htm. The market’s Web site is: