DOBSON — Produce available in most grocery stores travels an average of 1,500 miles and was picked weeks before purchase, according to Joanna Radford, Surry County cooperative extension agent.
Produce destined for any of the three local farmers markets, which open this week, is likely still in the Surry County soil where it was grown.
Radford chatted about the difference during a required farm visit on Tuesday with Pauline Fleenor, who works with her son, Joseph Fleener, owner of Hilltop Farm on Woltz Atkins Road.
“Here it’s just gathered the day before we go to the market,” said Pauline Fleenor.
A four-year veteran of the market process, Fleenor said getting the product out of the ground, prepping, washing and loading it for its short – no more than about 25 miles – journey to the market is no easy task.
“It takes you about all day,” she said, adding that the result is worth the effort.
First the produce: “It’s fresh. You can tell from the taste of it. It’s such a difference,” she said, and has a longer shelf life.
Then there’s the market itself. “It’s fun,” she said. “Everyone enjoying your food and liking it because it’s grown local.”
A new season approaches
The county’s first market will open in Elkin on Saturday, April 16, from 9 a.m. to noon. Mount Airy will open Tuesday, April 19 from 9 a.m. to noon at Mill Creek General Store. The Dobson market will begin on Thursday, April 21, from 3 to 6 p.m. at Dobson Town Square Park.
Radford said the new hours at the Dobson market, changed to accommodate the local work force, are among several new things to look forward to this season.
Like early Green Valley Farm strawberries, grown in a high tunnel (a greenhouse-type structure which does not use a heat source).
“Strawberries this time of year is just unheard of,” Radford said.
Or hand-spun alpaca yarn provided by Vivian Akers Thompson, who owns about 40 alpaca.
Keeping it local
In preparation for the coming market season, Radford visits every vendor, 34 of them, a requirement established by the market board.
The extension office keeps detailed information about each farm, including its layout.
The primary purpose of the visits is to ensure the produce or items sold at the markets are genuinely grown, produced or created locally.
In 2012, the board became fully active in the operations of the farmers markets, Radford said. That involvement, along with establishing clear rules and procedures, have helped the markets become more successful in the past few years.
Radford said vendors tend to be appreciative of the requirement, as it keeps the playing field level.
In a market that allows, for example, an out-of-season vegetable grown elsewhere with different conditions, it’s harder for the local merchants to compete.
During the visits, Radford also checks to make sure the farm can produce enough produce to extend the whole season, which didn’t appear to be a problem for the folks at Hilltop Farm.
Pauline Fleenor estimated that about four to five acres of their land is farmed.
“He’s come a long way with it all,” she said of her 28-year-old son, who was out of town during Radford’s visit.
“He got into it and loves it,” said Fleenor, who retired from the banking business and enjoys working on the farm with her son.
“He honestly has a green thumb. When he grows it, it’s so pretty. I’m not just bragging on him because he’s my son.”
Radford looked at the fields, checked out the new greenhouse Joseph Fleenor built by hand, and the 60 or so chickens.
“We’ve gotten a lot of good compliments on the eggs,” Pauline Fleenor said.
Radford made a list of the kinds of vegetables Hilltop would be selling this season: onions, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, kale, pak choy, green beans, patty pan squashes.
“Oh yes we’ll have everything,” Fleenor said.
On Tuesday, Radford also visited York Farm nearby in the Beulah community, where Kyle Montgomery, is just getting started.
Currently working about two acres, the Winston-Salem native has big plans for the approximate 200 acres on his family’s ancestral land.
“If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right,” he said.
Busy laying irrigation drips, building a greenhouse and occasionally sleeping in a tent while he converts a storage shed into a house, Montgomery plans on hitting the markets with his first year’s harvest in about a month.
“My goal is to try to be successful at growing the standard vegetables that people want, to have a variety every week and maybe have some things that people can’t get elsewhere. To try to be consistent and just learn.” he said.
Montgomery mentioned corn among the vegetables he’d like to provide this year.
“Oh good,” Radford said. “We don’t have a lot of corn.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.