A day at the Chatham Mills Farmers’ Market

This was previously published in the Chatham County Line:

The Market Manager gets to the lawn at seven. The air’s always cool then, no matter what time of year. Robert, from Carol’s Good Earth, is often already on site, unpacking his plants and hanging baskets and tent, and the Manager and her 15-year-old son, Jacob, who helps her with the heavy lifting, gets to work. Robert listens to NPR while he sets up: The People’s Pharmacy.

First  the Market Manager tent is set-up, then the tent for Farmer Foodshare, and finally the tents for the Market’s entertainment and non-profit friends. They put out tables and signs and chairs, and by then Farrell from Dutch Buffalo has arrived in his truck full of vegetables.

Next comes Meredith, Laura and Ches with Granite Springs and Iron Fish Farms, and Kim and Steve with Wanderlust, as well as Bobby and Bronwyn with Okfuskee. Folks call out “good morning” and “hello” and chat about the week. Fiddlehead Farm rolls in about a quarter ‘til: Emily always has a car-full. Cure Nursery shows up and unpacks, and the last to arrive are Coastal Shrimp, Fatty Owl, and Lilly Den Farms. Protein vendors take longer in the morning?

By now, the first few customers have arrived. Samantha is first. She brings her dog and seems to visit everyone. Mr. Ralph (I call him that because he teaches pre-school) comes next, sometimes with his dog. He makes the rounds. Michael and his Chihuahua make a beeline to Fiddlehead Farm and Emily’s cinnamon rolls, usually still warm from the oven. The dog seems fierce, but once he knows you he warms to a state of aloof coolness.

Over at Lilly Den,  the family arrives: Dennet, Lilly, and baby Meadow, who may be the happiest, most easygoing baby we know, though we’re not up with her at night. Tucker serves a stream of steady customers. Dutch Buffalo and Granite Springs Farm’s CSA customers come throughout the day. Wanderlust Farms’ rustic bouquets go quickly, as do her duck eggs. At Cure Nursery’s tent customers pick native plants and pick Bill Cure’s brain about gardening in central North Carolina. The non-profit bake sale sees customers looking for goodies and spreads the word about what they do. Our customers take their time. No one is in a  hurry. Shooting the breeze is an essential part of our market’s experience.

Families come: before soccer, after soccer. Helen, another market baby, arrives with her mother, Dutch Buffalo’s better half. Our entertainment arrives. Sometimes it’s storyteller Cynthia Raxter, often musicians, young, like the amazing Bucket Brothers and Fiddlesticks, both talented sibling acts, sometimes adults: Josh Jones plays the blues; Pat Stucke sends us to Vienna with her accordion. Sometimes groups, like the Hopping Johnnies or just a couple of guys sitting and picking – it’s all good! Some put out the hat, some play just to be playing. All get a bag of fresh food at the end of the day.

Then the rest of the customers come, slowly at first, then building to a peak around 11 a.m. We see familiar faces and new. Some go straight to one farmer, some buy something from everyone.  Almost all stop for a chat. Questions are answered, recipes exchanged. Sometimes vendors have samples: Mary at Fatty Owl cooks a mean Rabbit in Mustard Sauce. Laura Stewart, whose Iron Fish Farms shares a tent with Granite Springs, always has creams and salves and soaps to sample and smell.

By 1, most folks have little left. Carol’s Good Earth has sold all their hanging baskets, a few bunches of chard are left at Okfuskee, a little bit of sorrel at Wanderlust, a crab cake or two from Coastal Shrimp. Folks pack up their tents and goods and go – unless they don’t. On a nice day it’s common for folks to hang out, drink a beer and shoot the breeze for hours. Nevertheless, the Chatham Mills Farmers’ Market’s over for the day, but we’ll be back – same time, same place, the rest of the market season.