Lenoir farmers market to end opening day with fireworks

May. 02, 2013 @ 08:54 AM

Organizers of a farmers market that started in downtown Lenoir last year hope to draw more attention this year, so they are starting the new season with a bang. Quite a few of them, actually.

"I am going to light the bottom end of Lenoir up" with fireworks Saturday night, said Eddie Jolly of Patterson Pyrotechnics in Granite Falls. The fireworks show will come toward the end of the Downtown Lenoir Farmers Market's first day, which will extend to 10 p.m. instead of the usual closing at 4 p.m.

The show is the exclamation mark on a broad effort to bring local agriculture to the foreground of public attention and create a platform for farmers and a range of produce that Lynn Dean, one of the main organizers of the downtown market, said otherwise changes hands outside of the county.

There are nearly 460 farms in Caldwell County, the N.C. Department of Agriculture says, and there are three other weekly farmers markets, in Collettsville, Sawmills and at the Caldwell County Public Library in Lenoir. But the downtown market is the only one that sells nothing but local goods. It is expected to draw 25 to 30 local growers and artisans Saturday.

“We really want to keep it local,” Dean said. “I think if (local farmers and consumers) knew there was a producer-only market, they’d go.”

Dean is a grower herself. She and Jeff Crane live in Grace Chapel and grow about 75 kinds of herbs on four acres for use in teas and for medicinal and other uses. The two have canvassed the county in recent months seeking help in raising awareness of the downtown market. Among those they approached was the culinary program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute.

At a Caldwell Chamber of Commerce meeting a couple weeks ago, Dean and Crane unveiled their homemade meatballs, made with hops recycled from a beer recipe used by a local brewing club.

“It gave ‘em a real flavor,” Crane said of the ingredients of the meatballs, which they plan to bring to Saturday's market among other products, including a barbeeue sauce and shiitake mushrooms.

Western North Carolina is peppered with the highest concentration of farms in the state, said Jess Epsten, food campaign coordinator for the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, based in Asheville. The nonprofit group works to connect farmers with consumers in 60 counties, including Caldwell. She said the group, which donated supplies such as tables and signs to organizers of the downtown market, has in the past decade certified about 500 farms, including 114 in both the Foothills and High Country regions, that meet certain criteria on growing local food.

The impact of farmers’ markets on the local economy, she added, is seen in the “relationships and allegiances” consumers form over time with certain farmers.

The farmers market in the parking lot of the Caldwell County Public Library in Lenoir is by far the county's oldest, having run for more than 30 years. The others have sprung up in the past three years.

The local-only emphasis of the downtown market is seen by organizers as a way not only to stand out but also to educate the non-farming public about seasonal growing patterns.

A perceived drawback of farmers markets can be lack of selection, said local grower Ruth Ferguson, who plans to display fruits and vegetables from her Lenoir garden.

“You can’t come in November looking for corn – it’s not going to be there,” she said. But among the benefits are freshness and health. “If you come here, you’re gonna’ get less chemicals,” like pesticides and other preservatives.

Downtown market organizers have made strides since last year, when the market drew an average of 18 vendors a week, most of them artistans and artists. This year, they expect produce and livestock to make up about 85 percent of the goods at the market.

Among those selling animals will be Meredith Dukeof Lenoir, who in the past year has started raising a breed of endangered chickens and hopes to sell about 20 at the market as a way to give “purpose” to her livestock.

“They’ll be lost if people don’t continue to eat them,” she said.

Duke, who is preparing to graduate this year from Appalachian State University with a degree in agricultural economics, uses organic feed and maintains humane living conditions, ensuring her chickens experience a “life worth living before they come to the dinner table.”

Also new this year, vendors at the downtown market will be able to accept credit and debit cards, as well as electronic-benefit-transfer cards for food assistance, formerly called food stamps.

FARMERS MARKETS OPEN:

Starting Friday, the Collettsville Farmers Market will be open every Friday 2-6 p.m. Starting Saturday, the Caldwell Farmers Market at the Caldwell County Public Library parking lot will be open on Saturdays 6 a.m.-noon. After Saturday's extra-long opening day, the Lenoir Downtown Farmers Market will be open on Saturdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. And starting Tuesday, the Sawmills Farmers Market will be open Tuesdays 3-7 p.m.