It’s market time!

Apr. 30, 2014 @ 04:59 AM

Are you waiting for farm-fresh tomatoes, for the farmers to open their farm stands and for the local farmers markets to open up? Aren’t we all! The growth in farmers markets, farm stands and tailgate markets has been phenomenal in North Carolina. You don’t have to go far to find locally grown produce. It seems to me just about every large and small town in our state has a farmers market. Even some unique out-of-the-way places will have a farmers’ market. 

Last weekend’s spotty warm weather, the flowers and shrubs blooming and talk of area festivals has told me it is spring and I’m the mood for fresh locally grown and farm-raised products. Opening by the end of April will be a variety of farmers markets within 50 miles of us. For a complete list of pick-your-own farms, roadside farm markets and farmers markets throughout North Carolina, check out the North Carolina Farm Fresh directory at The directory is designed to help you find the freshest locally grown fruits, vegetables, meat products, Christmas trees, ornamental plants, flowers  and herbs.

If you live in Lee County, you will be glad to know that our Sanford farmers market, located at Depot Park in downtown Sanford, is now open for business. You may have seen some of our farmers promoting the market at the popular Second Sunday events being held downtown. Market Managers Joe Andrews and Carol Hargrove are predicting a bigger and better market this year. Right now, you will find a lot of bedding plants for your own garden, meat products, lettuce and fresh greens, baked goods, fresh farm eggs, granola, soap, natural fibers, flowers and potted plants. Exciting activities are also being planned during this season. Watch for live music, cooking demonstrations using farm-fresh products, extension master gardener Volunteers answering questions and more. To keep informed about the Sanford farmers’ market, be sure to “Like” their Facebook page and be one of the first to know what will be available at the weekly market.   

Purchasing items from the vendors is getting easier with a couple of the vendors now taking debit cards. Plans are also moving forward for the market to take EBT cards. The ever-popular Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program for WIC and seniors will again take place at our market this year. And, of course, cash is always a good and welcomed payment.

In a week or so, the market will be flooded with strawberries and once that happens, you’ll start to see a wide range of produce coming in from the fields. As summer nears, look for more vendors to be at the market. The Sanford farmers market is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Plans are to keep the market open through October, depending on the produce availability. Keep in mind to shop early for the best and most abundant selection. In late June, our market will open a second location at the Lee County Senior Enrichment Center. They will set up from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays. The general public is invited to stop and shop.   

There are advantages for both consumers and growers when shopping at a farmers’ market. Buying directly from farmers allows consumers to put a face with the products they are buying and ask questions of their grower. Buying direct pays full retail price to the farmer and provides consumers with the freshest produce at the peak of harvest. In addition, it’s a social event. You will see friends and neighbors, meet new friends; you’ll talk to the vendors, and have a sample or two. It’s a great place to be on Saturday mornings.

Another way to eat local is to become a member of the Sandhills Farm To Table Cooperative. Membership and subscriptions are now being accepted for this year’s spring and summer produce. Sandhills Farm To Table works through pre-orders. Local farmers harvest the food early in the morning, deliver it to the Co-op, where is it boxed and dropped off for pickup by subscribers at a convenient gathering center, all in a days time. You are truly getting farm fresh produce from within a 75-mile radius! By joining the Co-op and subscribing, you can receive weekly, or every other week, a variety box of fresh local produce. The goal of the Co-op is to have about 10 pounds of produce, at least two varieties of fruits and six of vegetables in each box. Lee County members will be able drop by the McSwain Center beginning April 17 and pick up their box. If you would like to participate in the 2014 season, there is still time to sign up. Just call (910) 722-1623 for assistance in becoming a member of the program.   

If you are unable to get out to a the Sanford farmers market or a local farm or participate in the Sandhills Farm To Table Cooperative, be sure to look for the food products with the “Got to Be NC” logo when shopping at your favorite grocery stores. The program guidelines assure us that these food items are grown, raised, packaged or processed in North Carolina using N.C. food and resource products. If you don’t see your favorite food products with this logo, be sure to ask for them.

The bottom line ... you have got to look closer to home for the best tasting, healthiest and the freshest farm products — “It’s Got to Be NC Agriculture.” So make the choice, make a difference and make it local. Be sure to call Cooperative Extension at (919) 775-5624 if you have questions about eating local.

Susan Condlin is County Extension Director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.