The Elkin Farmers Market will open Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon with musical guests Fiddle Dee Dee.
“The market has been around for about 14 years,” said Elkin Main Street and Community Manager Laura Gaylord. “When it first got started, farmers would just pull up and sell out of their trucks.” Although it was a good place to start, “it was poorly attended. People just didn’t really know they were there.”
It was when the Main Street Advisory Board got involved six years ago that attendance began to increase. “They felt it was a great opportunity if it were marketed correctly,” explained Gaylord. “When the farmers co-op got involved, they said the farmers at least had to have a tent. That brought in more people because it looked like there was something going on. It still wasn’t that busy, but there had been no other marketing done.”
Although there had been some advertising, it was when the shelter was built that the market really began to take off. “The person before me had written a grant which was turned down,” expounded Gaylord. “My first primary task was to re-write the grant. YVEDDI was looking for a place for a bus stop so I approached them about using the shelter during the weekend and the farmers market on the weekends.”
This partnership helped move the grant process forward. Because of the size of the shelter, bathrooms also had to be added which was accomplished through the aid of the Surry County Tourism Development Authority.
Most of the funds used to build the shelter came from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund. Many of the farmers in the co-op had previously planted tobacco. The purpose of the fund is to help tobacco farmers find new crops and adjust to a changing culture.
Most of the amenities and advertising has been provided for by the Main Street Advisory Board. “The farmers market fits in with our mission for success,” claimed Gaylord. “[The shelter] makes it more of a community hang out,” which is why the Main Street Advisory Board has invested in signage, picnic tables, bulletin board, information holders and will be making additional improvements. This year four ceiling fans will be added. Gutters also may be added or an awning to provide additional shade to help extend the life of the produce Saturday mornings.
“The Main Street Advisory Board has invested a lot because this is going to be a community gathering place,” stated Gaylord. “They feel like [the farmers market is] a community asset,” and it has been.
One of the many vendors who has participated in the farmers market was Barking Coyote, which is now permanently located at 204 W. Main St. “What I love about the farmers market is it’s like an incubator for businesses,” declared Gaylord.
Coffee represents just one of the many treasures found at the farmers market in addition to the expected fruits and vegetables. Meats such as pork, beef, lamb and rabbit are usually available, as are eggs. Honey, herbs, different varieties of mushrooms, flowers and baked goods also can be found. One vendor brings knitted items from alpaca wool that she has dyed herself.
Guidelines for participation are very specific. “Foods have to come from certified kitchens,” explained Gaylord. “Everybody gets an inspection [from the co-op] to make sure they are growing what they are selling.” Some craft items are acceptable. “They want it to be something you made from the earth, some kind of tie to nature,” described Gaylord, who stated the farmers market maintains a 3-1 ratio of farm to craft vendors.
“It’s always a farmers market first,” stated Gaylord. “Earlier in the season there may be more crafters than farmers,” but as the crops ripen there will be more farmers. “It’s always a different variety. That’s why people should come often.”
They should also come for the music. For the past several years, Gaylord has tried to book local musicians to play every market. “I still have an opening at least one weekend each month,” stated Gaylord, who is looking for more local talent.
To find out more about being a vendor, providing music or just shopping at the farmers market, contact Joanna Radford at the NC Cooperative Extension by calling 336-401-8025 or go to elkinfarmersmarket.com.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.