Farmers Markets Grow in North Carolina
Harnett County Farm Bureau member Kim Tart has been coming to the State Farmers Market since 1982. From early March through December, Tart and her family make the trek from Dunn to Raleigh twice a week—but it’s not to buy anything; it’s to sell their goods. For almost 30 years, Tart Strawberry and Produce Farm has sold produce at farmers markets and roadside stands. Tart says it’s the main source of income for their farm, and while it’s hard work, they love it.
“Everything is done at such a fast pace these days and people don’t have time to have gardens like they used to,” Tart says. “It’s hard work, but we farm to have produce to serve the community at large.”
Tart’s family has a special place in their hearts for the elderly. “A lot of older people can’t have the gardens they want because they need help keeping it,” she says. “So we can help them have the garden-fresh food they’re used to. It’s fresh, healthy and they know where it’s coming from.”
Harnett County Farm Bureau members Melvin and Mamie Hughes frequent local farmers markets because of the quality of the food and also to support local growers. “It’s much fresher and tastes better,” says Mamie. “There are more choices here and we like to be patrons of local farmers, especially those in Harnett County.”
Many farmers market customers cite the quality of the food and supporting local farmers as their main reasons for buying local food. In addition to these reasons, there are also other benefits of purchasing local produce.
Heirloom varieties of some fruits and vegetables have become popular and this can be attributed strongly to the popularity of local markets. When produce is grown for mass distribution, certain characteristics that make the fruits and vegetables better adapted for shipping, like thicker skin or longer shelf life, are favorable. Because only certain varieties will produce these characteristics, the varieties available from commercial grocery stores are limited. Buying locally opens buyers to a larger selection of fruit and vegetable varieties.
Shopping at farmers markets also has less obvious benefits like preserving open space and benefiting wildlife. Failing farms mean less green space to enjoy. Supporting small farmers who make the majority of their profit by selling food locally ensures that fields dotted with barns will remain a common sight on the North Carolina terrain.
More than 70 farmers markets currently operate in North Carolina. The markets sell everything from common fruits and vegetables to plants, meats, cheeses, breads, preserves and honey. Some markets are open year-round and welcome customers seven days a week, while others are seasonal.
The Durham Farmers Market is celebrating its tenth year in business and has recently moved from a tented area to a permanent facility. Market Manager Erin Kauffman says that since the market moved to a permanent location, business has boomed. “We’ve grown substantially and quickly,” she says. “We currently see about 3,000 to 4,000 people come through, and we have 60 vendors.”
Kauffman says the market’s popularity has increased significantly since 2007, which she attributes to news stories about eating local and food safety.
“We make sure everything being sold is top quality and clean and that the sellers follow USDA and EPA standards,” Kauffman says.
Kauffman says that vendors choose to sell at the farmers market because of the customers. “They are doing it because they like to do it, and they get excited because their customers get excited. It’s a social event for everyone involved.”
And the customers agree that they are there because of the farmers. “They get a sense of connectedness that they don’t get at the grocery store,” Kauffman says.