By Marilyn Pribus –
“I used to ask my students where their food came from,” says North Garden Farmers Market Manager Kathy Zentgraf.
“’The grocery store,’ they’d reply, so I’d explain to them about where their meat and produce came from before it got to the grocery store.”
Farmers markets, she notes, are a great show-and-tell place to demonstrate food sources. Often the growers themselves are there and happy to talk with young people about raising fruit and vegetables, flowers and livestock. They see people can actually make candles or soap or cheese, not just buy it at a store
People really welcome access to food and other items that are home-grown, home-raised and home-made. Farmers markets are also a natural meeting place for a community in this time when so many adults and children seem “tech-stuck” instead of enjoying things that are live.
Clearly, BUY FRESH, BUY LOCAL is more than a bumper sticker, it’s a grand idea. When we shop locally, we support our community as a whole.
In fact, a Virginia Cooperative Extension study revealed that if each Virginia household spent $10 a week on local products, an additional $1.65 billion—that’s billion with a B—would be invested back into the Commonwealth’s local economy.
In addition, many related businesses such as orchards, berry patches, and restaurants benefit from our increasing appetite for locally grown food. Vibrant farmers markets not only add to the economic health of our area, they enhance both our physical health and that elusive concept called quality of life.
Area Farmers Markets Flourish
“Charlottesville scores as one of the top places to live, over and over,” declares REALTOR® Kelly Ceppa of Nest Realty in Charlottesville. “We are one of the few small cities in the nation that has big-city cultural amenities like art, theater, and education. We also have small-town features like ‘community.’”
“Community” is definitely reflected in Charlottesville’s City Market where you’ll often find Ceppa, like many other shoppers, selecting food and meandering and chatting with friends on a Saturday morning. This market, while the largest in the region, is typical of most others.
You’ll find them throughout Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison, Nelson, and Orange Counties. Markets sprout in a variety of venues including subdivisions, school and church parking lots, and community parks. Many are on Saturdays, but some are on other days.
One of the newest is the former Red Hill Farmers Market, now renamed the North Garden Farmers Market and relocated to the Albemarle Ciderworks at 2545 Rural Ridge Lane in North Garden.
“We’re open Thursdays from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. and it’s a great location,” declares market manager Zentgraf. “The Ciderworks usually closes at 5:00 p.m., but they are keeping their Cider Room open until 7:00 p.m. on Thursdays for us so there is shelter for people. We have typical farmer vendors and also some artists including a textile artist and a woman who paints little portraits—she hands your finished portrait to you on the spot—and we’re looking for more.”
Each market has its own personality. Some are shaded by big old trees while others are protected by tents, shelters, or individual vendors’ canopies. Much of the charm of visiting markets is discovering what makes each one different. Will you find a wonderful new bread for your table or an unusual plant for your garden? What else might you find? Here’s a short list: fresh seasonal produce, honey, preserves of all sorts, flavored vinegars, chutney, eggs, meat, cheese, baked goods.
Beyond edibles you’ll often find candles, jewelry, sewn or knitted items, pottery, woodcrafts, furniture, soap, organic pet snacks, children’s clothes, flowers in bouquets or pots, vegetable and flower seedlings, and ceramics from mugs to casseroles and vases.
In addition, some artists work right at the market. It might be a weaver with a small loom, a jewelry maker, or a face painter. An especially appealing feature of a typical market is the chance to visit face-to-face with the growers, bakers, cooks, and artists.
A number of markets have beverages and ready-to-eat foods with tables and seating so you can enjoy food on the spot. Others have regular musical performances—from youth musicians to singing groups and old-timey fiddlers. Frequently Master Gardeners are available to answer questions about enhancing your green thumb.
Not all items are available at all markets all the time and many shoppers visit different markets on different days. Some vendors participate at only one market, others miss a time now and then, and a number of items are seasonal. Most markets typically have a waiting list for spaces so some vendors fill in whenever they can until a permanent slot opens up.
The City Market also offers sidewalk space for tables and exhibits about various causes to let shoppers know what the advocates are passionate about. Various groups seek to garner support for their missions—everything from supporting a high school sports team or a group teaching home canning skills to environmental and political groups.
How to Find a Market
The Piedmont Environmental Council publishes a colorful guide, which is also online at www.buylocalvirginia.org/chapters/charlottesville-area. It includes information about regional Farmers Markets, farms and orchards (many offering U-pick fruits and veggies), wineries, cideries, breweries, grocers, caterers, restaurants and regional events as well as a calendar showing the availability of various fruits and vegetables by season.
Marilyn Pribus lives in Albemarle County near Charlottesville and often wanders around the City Market gathering fresh food and hugs from friends she encounters there.