Readers’ choice: Best of 2017

I love our local rag, Rockingham Now. I am not uncritical of the paper, but, on the whole, I am grateful that we still have a (somewhat) local print news source.

So I was thrilled to open it up a couple of weeks ago, and see that they had done a Readers’ Choice survey to find the best that our county has to offer. It started at restaurants, then proceeded through to shopping & services, where my eyes alighted upon “Best Farmers’ Market.” Shocked I was not, but incredibly pleased. And even more thrilling was the taste of victory – our market, Market Square Farmers’ Market got voted first place. Second place was the WestRock Farmers’ Market, followed by Rockingham County Farmers’ Market, at the old Chinqua-Penn barn.

I’d like to take a moment to consider each of these in turn, if only briefly.

The group of vendors and our wonderful market manager at Market Square are what keep this place thriving and hopping with activity – we are driven by a collective goal of making the market a destination for members of the community throughout the week. We are incredibly fortunate to have the beautiful space to work in, space which has only improved with the recent addition of the quilt squares and the ongoing efforts to beautify downtown Reidsville. Also, we have a bona fide meat vendor. I can unequivocally state that the ground beef produced by Bar O Cattle is the best local beef that I have tasted since selling at the market, and very reasonably priced on top of that.

Moving on, to the WestRock Farmers’ Market – I don’t know a lot about what they’re doing over there, but it can only be good. I’d love to take a Saturday to visit over there, meet the vendors, exchange stories, pick up some local produce and artisinal goods.

Finally, there is the Rockingham County Farmers’ Market. If Market Square is the heart of Reidsville, the Rock. Co. Farmers’ Market is the soul of Wentworth. It exists in an old barn, which was/is part of Chinqua-Penn Plantation. This historical barn was refurbished thanks to the efforts made by on of my mentors, Pat Bush, and by Patricia M. and Deborah Crumpton. The restorations are done with love and craftsmanship – only under scrutiny is it evident that the original structure has been mended to counteract the ravages of time. There came a point when there was virtually one produce vendor, Jimmy, and a meat vendor, Frank. Another vendor, also named Jimmy, has taken over operation of this market. I’m pretty sure the hours are Wednesdays and Saturdays, 8-1, but I’ll have to double check.

One may ask, “why are you advertising your Market’s competition?” I would answer – “they’re not our competition.” It is a fact that each of us farmers sells slightly different produce and products, and our customers are becoming ever more sophisticated in their produce needs. Some customers don’t care – they buy the first squash they see, and that’s fine too. But, I take extra precautions to ensure that what I grow and sell is as complementary as possible to the other farmers, and not in direct competition. If I end up selling the same thing as them, I still have my niche customers who buy what I grow because they know it is chemical free and still beautiful (I will admit I was concerned about the blueberries, but they ended up selling as fast as I could pick them – I hope I did not under-sell myself). I hope to be selling at the market for a good long while. So I’ll have to find a sustainable equilibrium, without compromising my values and promises to my customers.

So, before a went off on a tangent, I was talking about the “competition.” I’m talking about the other markets  because I think it is vitally important that each community has its own market for selling and buying what members of the community grow and make. And not just to be self-reliant, in case we lose a major provider of goods and employment. Rather, I truly believe that markets are a vital part of a community; they are a way to celebrate the enduring human trait of creativity, and provide a unique setting for socializing and networking, a setting which is as transient as the sun traversing the sky.

So the take-away is this: thank you for supporting your community market, wherever it may be. We, as customers, have no idea how much our presence is enjoyed and appreciated.

Farmers’ Market philosophy, II

There are many opinions about what it takes to create a thriving farmers’ market that becomes a weekly destination for a population. I’m expressing my opinion, not because I think it’s 100% correct, but to put it out there for critical evaluation and revision if necessary.

What makes a good farmers’ market? A market consists of (at least) two complementary components: vendors and customers. This is not as binary as it looks – a vendor can certainly be a customer, and a customer can be a vendor, and there are always passersby who don’t buy anything at the moment, but can play a crucial role in a healthy market. Also, we have a very special person, our market manager, who, among many things, works hard to market the market, to coordinate activities of stakeholders, to ensure that the physical plant is in working order, and to facilitate digital transactions.

Back to the vendors. I have two ideas about a vendor. I can only speak for myself.

Vendors help vendors. I see this numerous times in a variety of ways. We all have days when we don’t even come close to selling out or meeting our daily goal. Depending on how many times this happens, this can make us feel more or less disappointed or demoralized. Yes, even grumpy. How do the other vendors respond? Mainly by listening. Sometimes the best way to empathize with someone is to just listen, and not say anything for the moment. But it may take more. We have all been there, so it is easy to empathize, to offer some words of encouragement. A bigger step would be to go about strategizing – how can we do better next week? And other pertinent questions. Vendors help each other. Plain and simple.

Vendors are honest. Did you grow this? A typical question that reverberates and fills the empty space of an otherwise placid Saturday morning. It may be the case that a farmer did not grow a particular item, but did harvest it or purchase it from another farm, in which case the vendor becomes a subvendor, and pays a $25 subvending fee for the privilege of selling something that they did not grow. It goes without saying that honesty creates a benchmark of trustworthiness and helps to further build community among all members.

Pote Salat

Each interaction that I have with a visitor to the market is full of wonder and surprises. I recently learned something from a customer that reminded me of an early excursion to one of the farmers’ markets in Guilford County, having to do with pokeweed.

This was probably about 14 years ago. One of my first visits to the market. There were so many new things to see and taste (the first time I had Red Russian kale, and local organic strawberries). One of the vendors had a pile of oddly familiar greens stacked haphazardly on a sheet of unfolded newspaper – that was pretty much all he had to offer. The hand-written sign read: “Pote salat.” I can’t remember if I asked him directly, or if I overheard him explaining to someone else, but he sheepishly explained that he wasn’t really sure what to do with it, or how to prepare it, all he knew was you had to be careful how you ate it.

Fast forward to the present. I knew that gentleman was talking about pokeweed, but I wouldn’t dare mess with it. Until a particular customer, last year, brought it up. We didn’t talk about it much, just in passing. Then, that person came by again this year. We exchanged greetings, and I couldn’t resist asking about the pokeweed. Next thing I knew, I was receiving a full-blown description of its preparation:

  1. Only pick young tender greens (it’s too late at this time of year).
  2. Put them in filtered water or spring water, bring to a boil, let boil for 5-10 minutes (I don’t remember the precise time).
  3. Remove them from the water, dispose of the water, add new water.
  4. Squeeze them in order to start removing the “poison.”
  5. Repeat step four one or two more times.
  6. Saute up with onions, olive oil, a bit of salt and pepper.

I’ll be posting a picture and more details as I come across them.

Shrimp for Sale

We were excited to have Gary Warren and his fresh seafood at the market for the second time this month. This time around, he had shrimp, grouper, mahi-mahi, flounder, and tuna. He also has fresh oysters and scallops. His frozen selection is even more extensive: lobster, crablegs, rabbit, froglegs. Gary also sells produce and meats.

This is exciting because it increases the selection of local items that folks in Reidsville and Rockingham County can add to their home menus.

We will let you know when Gary plans on being at the market next.

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Permanent location:

Water Works Grocery Bait & Tackle

1698 US Hwy 29 Business

Mon-Sat: 6am – 10pm

Sun: 7am – 10pm

Barbara and Tom

We welcomed two talented itinerant authors to the market this past Saturday, June 25.

Barbara Collins Golding has authored Barefooted, a touching collection of poems and vignettes centered around her memories and life experiences. Many bring a tear to my eye because they speak of the bygone days of Rockingham County. It is not the nostalgia, however, that affect one the most, but the depth of her spirit and her gratitude, even when she laments grief and loss. Where she does not paint pictures with words, she includes photographs from her archives to accompany her writings.

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Tom and Barbara displaying their creative endeavors.

Tom Lanier, member of the Rockingham County Gun Club, and active in the Rockingham County Writers’ Workshop, brings us A Friend in Need. Subtitled “A Story of the New South,” this is at once a mystery novel and an account of coming to terms with the aftermath of war in a foreign land. The allusions are clear and add to the depth of the read:

“God struck Saul of Tarsus blind on the Damascus Road to get his attention. In the natural order of things, age and infirmity have a humbling effect and clear our vision.”  (page 62)

With its serious subtext, this book would make an enjoyable read during a weekend excursion – thought-provoking, fast-paced, and entertaining in equal turns.

The Arts thrive at Market Square!

Paul

Paul and Joe at the market on Saturday. Paul knows one thing: hard work. Farming is his avocation, and it shows in his green beans, tomatoes, crowder peas, greens – pretty much everything Paul puts into the ground. He stands behind his produce and always has something nice to say to visitors to the market.

Joe is proprietor of Bar O Cattle, and his black Angus grass-fed ground beef comes to us by way of Paul.

06242017 paul and joe