From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
Interest in farmers markets is stronger than ever, thanks in part to the momentum of the buy-local food movement. More and more people are interested in knowing where their food comes from and are looking to connect with farmers in their area, and farmers markets offer a central location for buyers and sellers.
This is welcome news to farmers and has led to more farmers markets sprouting up across the state to meet the demands of consumers.
North Carolina shoppers are fortunate because the state features a wide array of markets, from smaller one-day venues to larger regional markets that are open year-round. Some markets seem to specialize in organic foods, while others may offer a mix of conventionally produced foods and organic fare.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services operates five regional markets in Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Lumberton and Raleigh. But you can find farmers markets from the mountains to the coast, which is handy if you are staying in the state for your vacation.
One of the easiest ways to locate a local market is by going to the department’s N.C. Farm Fresh website at www.ncfarmfresh.com. Click on the find farmers markets link, which is searchable by county or by market name. We have more than 135 farmers markets listed, many with links to their home pages.
June is the time of year when market activity really starts to pick up. I enjoy visiting farmers markets to see what is in season and to see the variety of plants and food items for sale. I hope to get out and visit even more farmers markets this year as I travel the state.
The markets are also great places for family outings. They give parents an opportunity to talk to their children about where fruits and vegetables come from, and to let kids participate in selecting food for a meal.
Some markets host special events or short workshops, adding entertaining and educational activities.
Plants also make up a big part of market offerings, especially in the spring and summertime when people are looking to shake off the effects of winter and get out in their yards.
At the State Farmers Market in Raleigh, for example, tents outside the main farmers building are needed to house plant vendors. Despite having half of the building dedicated to plant sales, the Raleigh market has more plant vendors than available spaces.
One of the best tips I can offer to shoppers is to get to the market early, when you have your choice of fruits, vegetables and food items. Many vendors harvest the same morning, so everything is super fresh.
If you have never visited a local farmers market, I encourage you to make this the year you do. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by all the things North Carolina farmers have to offer.