Farm fresh more than a slogan at Denver Farmers Market
DENVER – Although big-box grocery stores often decorate their walls with murals of idyllic 19th century farms, much of their produce comes from industrialized, factory farming.
People appear to be taking notice.
Recently, Kevin Starr, Lincoln County Cooperative Extensive service director, has seen a growing public demand for farmers markets and an ability to buy local food.
“When you buy something locally produced, your money goes back into the local economy,” he said. “It’s hard to beat lettuce pulled right out of the ground when the competition is lettuce that’s been on a truck all the way across the country.”
In North Carolina, 17 percent of jobs come from agriculture and agribusiness. Cooperatives statewide have partnered with N.C. State University and N.C. Agricultural and Technical University to provide farmers and agribusinesses with knowledge to produce quality crops and livestock in economically and environmentally sustainable ways.
They also organize farmers markets across the state, including the one at Rock Springs Elementary School in Denver that has been active on Saturdays for the last six years.
According to Starr, several hundred people come out for the festival atmosphere to buy specialized garlic, fresh vegetables, meats, baked goods, eggs, honey, homemade soap, needlework, jewelry and pottery. The event has attracted up to 40 vendors lately.
“There’s been a move toward year-round markets, which means farmers can experiment with cold-weather crops that are hearty and with weather-protection techniques,” Starr said. “But we’ve also started opening earlier in the season and close later than ever.”
Nov. 17 will mark a special holiday farmers market in Denver, with free apple cider and pastries to show vendors’ appreciation for those who shop local, as well as an assortment of holiday gift options. The regular market will resume from December to March at 9 a.m.-noon, first and third Saturdays of the month.
“People love to buy their sweet potatoes and crisp apples for Thanksgiving at the holiday market. We’ve also seen a rise in specialty pepper sales lately, and the holiday market will have T-shirts, aprons and bags for sale” Starr said.
Bill Reed, a vendor from Freedom Farm, sells soaps, skincare products, and eggs from 120 free-range hens and meat from pasture-raised hogs at the market. He also uses Catawba County’s reclaimed lumber, milled at the turn of the last century, to make wood crafts like elaborate bird houses.
“Our customers are some of the greatest in the world because they’re curious about how the food is grown and want to talk to farmers face-to-face. They’re surprised by our heirloom foods like melons and cucumbers,” Reed said.
Heirloom plants are those that were commonly grown earlier in human history but were not easy to mass produce. They are a reaction against manufactured crops that can withstand mechanical picking, cross-country shipping, drought and pesticides.
“The customer’s push for the local food movement and some people’s desire to start small, part-time farms are feeding off each other and fueling our growth,” Starr said.