What’s been going on!
For some time I have been thinking about writing a piece on why the Carrboro Farmers’ Market is different and unique from all the other markets in the area. With the recent N&O article about how difficult it is for farmers markets to take food stamps, in which they interviewed and mentioned many people and markets from across the state but the only nod to the Carrboro Market was about our novel idea to use the fees from our ATM (first farmers’ market in the state to have one) to support our SNAP program, I said maybe now is a good time.
I mean we only wrote the book on how farmers’ markets in North Carolina can independently accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) better known as food stamps. Starting almost a decade ago, the market tested out several different systems before going directly to the USDA and working through the bureaucracy so we could run our own more efficient program. This was after meeting with state legislators and others to try and improve the currently available programs, researching the few markets across the country that were taking SNAP and running a multi-year, grant funded, test to determine exactly what the costs of the program to the market would be. Then we did as we always do, we freely shared our knowledge with many other markets across the state and the country.
A bit of a digression but it is a perfect example of how the Carrboro Market operates and one of the ways that makes it different from all the other area markets. But with so many markets in the Triangle area (at least 25 at last count and too many really) it is hard for people to decide which market they want to support. Now I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t shop at a market that is close to you, especially if it has the selection and quality of products that you are looking for but sometimes you don’t have that option.
Yes because we are the oldest market in the area (35 years) and have the most vendors (over 80) of any of the non-state run markets, we have had many first chances to do things well. First we are a producer’s only market that is run by the vendors not the town or the chamber of commerce or another outside group. There are now a few other markets with that kind of governance in the state and mostly because we have promoted it to new markets as the best way to go by sharing our rules, by-laws and procedures with them, so that doesn’t make us different.
We were among the first to do many things now common to markets across the country. Special events of all kinds (Tomato Day, Strawberry Day, Canning classes, etc.), the first with a pre-Thanksgiving market, the first to accept WIC checks, food stamps, etc., the first with an ATM, had the first certified organic farmers in NC, the first to allow farmers to take a year off without losing their space at market, the first to limit the number of crafts and prepared food sellers so that it would remain a farmers market, the list is long. But most markets do all that now, so that doesn’t make us different.
There are two very important things that set the Carrboro Farmers’ Market apart from all others in the Triangle and I think the state. First because we are a large and successful market, we have a very engaged and active membership which participates in market governance and elects and supports a very active Board of Directors. The market has always pushed the envelope on what a market should be, not only to its customers but to its members as well. It is being able to work on issues like food access to the community as a whole and taking care of our members needs that makes us different but most customers don’t see that side of the market.
The single thing that makes our market unique, amongst all the markets in the area, is that we require the people selling at market be the owners of the business or their immediate family. No other market has this rule. All the other markets allow any employee to sell at market, you might be helped by someone who has a real stake in the food you are buying but many times not. This is how many farms can sell at 5 and 6 markets a week, sometimes all on the same day! Big families I guess. At Carrboro, the person selling you the food is the one that produced it, the one whose feet are to the fire financially and whose reputation is on the line. It is a farmer who has been recognized, regionally or nationally for their work or the person who developed the recipe and was written up in Food and Wine.
This makes it difficult for some of our vendors who don’t have employees and want to be able to sell at other markets or to take weeks off during the season but I think that it is what makes our members so active and engaged in running the Carrboro markets. They are actually there representing their businesses and seeing how things are going at market every week so they share their ideas and concerns directly with the manager and Board, serve on committees and help to make the market the best it can be.
So the next time you are wondering what market to go to think about location and product diversity and maybe your favorite farmer but certainly if you want to actually talk to the people who grew your food, ask them how it was grown, what variety it is, how the season is affecting the crops or where the ingredients in the jam came from then there is only one market in the Triangle where you can be sure that will happen, Carrboro.
Picture of the Week
32 degrees this morning, the green green of spring
What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading →