First Posted: 3/26/2009
DOBSON Soon, a growing desire by the public for healthier, locally produced foods will collide head-on with area farmers need for a sales outlet, plans for which took root Thursday night.
A group of producers from across Surry County met with Terry Garwood, a N.C. Cooperative Extension agent specializing in horticulture, for a planning session regarding upcoming annual farmers markets in both Mount Airy and Elkin.
The program has operated continually for 10 years, according to DeNeane Kidd of Elkin, marketing manager for the facilities, which this year might hold special significance for both producers and consumers.
With the economy drooping like leaves on drought-stricken cornstalks, the farmers markets, to begin in early May, could offer the public a means of obtaining fresh vegetables, fruits and various other items cheaper than at retail establishments.
Another lure is the fact the items have come straight from the ground or off the tree, free from the middle-men, processors and everyone else involved in the conventional food chain that usually leads to cans or frozen packages.
For farmers, the market represents a steady, reliable and nearby alternative to sell various products, avoiding the time and transportation costs of out-of-county venues.
Ed and Kathy Powell, two growers from Lowgap who were present at Thursdays meeting at the Surry County Agriculture Building, have felt the influences of all the forces driving the markets.
Thats where we sell, said Ed Powell. We depend heavily on the farmers markets.
The couple, who mainly offer blueberries, but also produce such as squash and eggplant, have been selling through the farmers market program about eight years.
They have noticed an increasing tendency of consumers seeking out the markets as a healthier food choice. Weve had some who have come to the market for the first time, Ed Powell said. Theyve never actually cooked fresh vegetables before.
As part of the trend, the Powells bill their blueberries as chemical-free, meaning they do not spray after the berries appear. A popular product of the couples is the Southern Highbush variety of blueberries, which should come in around late May or early June, with the weathers cooperation.
Johnny Marion of Pilot Mountain, another farmer who attended Thursdays organizational meeting, said he plans to offer everything in produce at the farmers markets this year.
The Mount Airy Farmers Market will get under way May 5 and is slated to end Oct. 27. It will be open each Tuesday from 3:30 to 6 p.m. The location is the parking lot of the Andy Griffith Playhouse at 218 Rockford St.
Its counterpart in Elkin will operate from the town parking lot at the corner of North Bridge and West Market streets beginning May 9. Its last day will be Sept. 26. The Elkin Farmers Market is to be open each Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.
Twenty-four farmers registered to sell items in 2008.
For some reason, Mount Airy has been very well attended by the public and growers, said Garwood, who has been involved with the program for years. However, that same level of participation has not been seen in Elkin.
As part of plans to build up the Elkin market, the possibility of another sales location at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital has been suggested, which first must clear insurance and other hurdles, based on Thursday nights discussion.
Meanwhile, the market site in the town parking lot could possibly help stimulate downtown Elkin this spring and summer, Garwood said.
The markets are open to producers not only from Surry, but Stokes, Yadkin, Wilkes and Alleghany counties, along with Carroll and Patrick in Virginia. Sellers must be the original producers of items sold, who also can be family members or employees involved in the operation.
Products that can be offered include vegetables grown from seeds, sets or seedlings; fruits, nuts or berries grown from trees, bushes or vines on the sellers farms; any plant grown from seeds, seedlings, transplants or cuttings; locally produced eggs; honey from the sellers bees; items such as preserves and relishes; and others.
A complete list of allowable items, and those not permitted, and other farmers market rules is available from the Extension office in Dobson, which can be reached at 401-8025. Those who would like to sell at the markets are asked to call Garwood at that number.
Sellers must include a non-refundable annual registration fee of $40 with their applications.
In a related matter, Garwood also advised growers Thursday night of plans for a value-added center in Pilot Mountain which could aid their cause.
As explained by the extension agent, the facility would allow some of the items farmers dont sell, such as less-than-pristine apples or vegetables, to be processed into salsa, jellies or other by-products. These in turn can either be packaged for producers to sell or possibly marketed to grocery stores.
What its doing is its giving you another market, Garwood told the farmers, explaining that the project represents a safety net for maximizing their operations.
Garwood added that the building planned for the valued-added facility is local government-owned, and will be developed using Golden LEAF funding. Its being set up for farmers to use, he said. Were not definite on how were going to set this up.
The agent said the site likely wont be operational in time to capitalize on the 2009 growing season, but should be in place by next year.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.