Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #6, 3/30/18

What’s been going on!

Forty springs means a lot of produce and flowers have passed through the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.  Yes this year is the Market’s 40th season!  It is sometimes hard to imagine that a group of farmers could consistently organize themselves and set up every Saturday for that many years and do it so well.  Now Peregrine Farm hasn’t been there from the beginning, we are only in our 33rd year, but we can completely appreciate the effort that has gone into starting and building the institution that the Carrboro Market is.

For those who don’t remember, our first 17 years were in the parking lot on Roberson St. behind the Armadillo Grill.  That location was just leased from Carr Mill and when they decided they might sell it we worked closely with the Town to find a new permanent home for what had become an essential element in the fabric of the Town of Carrboro.  We knew that we needed to stay near Downtown but a location could be hard to find.  Fortunately the old ball field next to Town Hall (which used to be the elementary school) was available to become a town park.  It took nearly eight years from the first discussions, through design meetings, to fund raising efforts and finally construction before we moved to the Town Commons in 1996.

I was President of the market Board leading up to and during the move and we were ecstatic with our new permanent home.  It was a tight fit as we had grown to an 80 space market but working with the Town it all worked out.  23 years later I am once again President of the board as we prepare to move back into the newly renovated market space after 5 long winter months.  The improvements are vast.  One of the biggest goals was to improve the drainage and grass so that it does not become a muddy moonscape after rains.  They have buried huge drain pipes and graded in such a way to catch all the water.  The grassed areas under where vendor’s trucks and displays will be have been reinforced with a special grid to hopefully prevent wear and tear.  New water permeable walkways, a bathroom building, new playground and market storage building, new lighting and electrical hookups for the vendors that need power.   Refurbished shelters and gazebo to make it all more usable for special events both for the Market and other Town events.  It will be awesome!

Technically the construction is done this week but we cannot move onto the new grass until April 14th so that it has adequate time to become solidly rooted and can take truck traffic.  Until then the good news is that the new parking lots will be open as well as the bathroom building.  We will be able to park some vendors in the south side parking lot and near the playground but will probably still have a few folks in the main parking lot next to Town Hall.

Just as our amazing customers and market supporters followed us from Roberson Street to the Town Commons 23 years ago, we have been equally proud and appreciative of how they have been flexible and unfazed during this renovation chaos!  It is only a short time now and just in time for the blooming of the spring market.  Join us next week April 7th for the official ribbon cutting ceremony at 9:00 a.m.

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The ground breaking for building the Town Commons in 1995, Alex on the left was 15 😉

 What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #23, 7/20/17

What’s been going on!

Into the furnace we go, had to happen sooner or later this summer and most appropriate the third week of July which is statistically the hottest of the year.  We are starting at 7:00 these mornings to beat a bit of heat and are out of the field by noon everyday.  You all stay cool.

I gave a fun talk yesterday to a group of Triangle Farmers’ Markets market managers some of whom are struggling with how to make their markets more sustainable and they were interested in how we manage to do it at Carrboro.  Most new and small markets have very part time managers (like 10 hours a week) who have a hard time in building a market and market community.

For some reason I have become the unofficial historian of the Carrboro Market and did a deep dive into the chronology of how the market developed and critical points along the way.  Now I will admit that Carrboro has had the benefit of 39 seasons to organically develop policies and solutions to problems that are common to most markets and that our success is in no small part due to the amazing customer base we have.

I do point to two original concepts that help make Carrboro more resilient and innovative.  First when the Town gave governance of the market to the farmers instead of a group of towns folks it instilled a sense of ownership and responsibility that most vendors at markets do not have.  Farmer run and farmer controlled, making decisions that make sense for the members not the economic development folks.

The second I have talked about many times before.  Carrboro is the only market that requires the owner of the business to be there selling, this further deepens that ownership and pride of the market.  When you just have an employee selling for you they don’t observe things that go on at market the same way, they don’t interact with the managers or the other vendors the same way, they don’t serve on committees or the board to help improve how the market operates.  We have 80 plus small entrepreneurs all contributing ideas and solutions that make the market cooperative better that in turn benefits their individual businesses.

The result has been a thriving market place for the farmers, a gathering place for the Town of Carrboro and an important part of the economic engine for downtown Carrboro.  We know we are fortunate to have such a market and never take it for granted.

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Our first year at the old market, 32 years was a long time ago!

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #10, 4/20/16

What’s been going on!

A fair sized ripple rolled through the food and farmers market pool last week, on the internet, over a set of articles by the Tampa Bay Times food writer Laura Reiley.  Titled Farm to Fable she did excellent in depth investigative research on restaurants who say they use local products and a second article on the Tampa Bay area farmers markets.  Her conclusion was everyone was lying and there was almost no local food in either the restaurants or the farmers markets.

Were we shocked?  Not really.  Is it the same way here in the Triangle?  No.  First there has always been green washing in the restaurant and grocery businesses to get customers into their stores, do we really think that the produce department at Harris Teeter is a “Farmers Market”?  I can say that the restaurants we sell to do an excellent job in sourcing local product and try as best as they can to represent that accurately on their menus.  We do have friends around the country who occasionally have to go in and bust a chef for using their names on the menu when they haven’t bought something from them in a long time, it happens.

The second part on farmers markets also represents the fact that Florida agriculture mostly revolves around shipping large amounts of produce around the country and the world in the off season, so a culture of buying from big produce markets and reselling has been that way for a long time.  We know plenty of small farmers growing in Florida but apparently not in the markets around Tampa Bay.

The description of the farmers markets there were filled with crafts, prepared food vendors, food trucks and few produce sellers at all.  Some she described as Flea Markets.  Those are not the kind of markets we have here in North Carolina.  When independent farmers markets started up here decades ago they mostly took a growers only position, where the farmers actually sold their own products.  Sure there are Flea Markets here to but no one I know actually thinks of them as the place to buy fresh produce.

All that being said, not all markets here are created equal either.  The hardest thing for a market to do is to make sure that everything being sold does comply with its rules such as- every product is grown or made by the vendor, that the owner is actually there selling or that they are within a certain distance of the market.  Many markets just don’t have the man power or the will to do the inspections and leg work it takes and slowly “exceptions” can be made.

This is what makes the Carrboro Farmers’ Market so outstanding, for all of its nearly four decades it has been committed to upholding its rules (the most stringent all local markets) and by doing that supporting its producers in the best way possible.  We just hope that people don’t paint all markets or restaurants the same way but the wise consumer should look behind the curtain to verify for themselves the claims made are true, get to know who grows and cooks your food.

Picture of the Week

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A field full of lettuce, perfect growing conditions, eat it while it’s here

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm New Vol. 12 #26, 9/18/15

What’s been going on!

A really pleasant event last evening at the Carrboro Market’s Harvest Dinner.  Perfect weather to go with good dishes from the twenty plus chefs that shop at and support the market.  The setting under the market pavilions is always beautiful and the assembled crowd of market customers and supporters has that real feel of community.

The Harvest Dinner is both a celebration of the season and the market but also a fundraiser to help extend the markets budget so that we can increase our outreach to many groups in the Carrboro and Chapel Hill area.  Food access programs, kids cooking classes, working with local businesses, farm and food education events of all kinds are examples of the forward thinking that has made the Carrboro Farmers’ Market the leader and innovator in local markets and one of the best in the country.  It is why it is the areas epicenter of the local, sustainable food movement.

While something like 90 percent of the markets budget is from stall rental fees from the vendors and market has been self-supporting for all of its 37 years, fees can only go so far.  We have never wanted to rely on grants, as many non-profits do, so events like the Harvest Dinner and the new Market Perennial Program help us to continue our forward momentum.  Just like WUNC’s Sustainer program you can sign up for a regular donation to the market.  Betsy and I are also “Perennials”, as are a number of other vendors and community members and even though we pay our share of stall fees, we know that the market has been the single most important part of our business for the last 30 years.  Even on a farmers budget we know that we need to contribute to the market as it has contributed to us for so long.

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It is all about Red Bells right now

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #26, 9/26/14

What’s been going on!

The first week of fall certainly wasn’t messing around, almost straight to early November weather instead of the beautiful 70’s and 50’s originally forecast.  Good days to be inside working on other projects.  At least today looks dry to get all the peppers picked and Saturday looks marvelous.

The season is beginning to pick up with meetings and events for many of the organizations that we work with.  Farm to Fork 2015 picnic planning is well underway with an exciting plan to expand it to an entire weekend with multiple events that folks can pick and choose from, more on this as we fill in more of the details.  Many events around the 20th anniversary of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) that we serve on the Advisory Board for.  The same weekend is RAFI’s Crop Hop a fun time and they raise money for their farm sustainability programs.

We were talking the other day about all the groups we work with and that the three we will do just about anything asked of us are the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, RAFI and CEFS.  They constitute the entire range of issues that are most important to us.  Of course the market is our main source of income but is also a leader in how local markets should be run.  RAFI fills a middle niche working on policy issues that affect us both in the state and nationally.  CEFS rounds it out by actually doing the hard science and field scale experiments of sustainable agriculture as well as much work in local food systems.

The Carrboro Market’s fall harvest dinner was last night and it went off beautifully with a sold out house, fed by 20 area chefs we raised nearly $7000 to go towards market site physical improvements.  The exciting new announcement was the kickoff of the Market Perennial program.  Like the WUNC Sustainer program it allows people to donate a set amount every month to help support the ever expanding market programing.  Check in at the market’s website where there soon will be a link for you to sign up so that you can be Perennials along with us!

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A gray day but these crazy celosia brighten up anything

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #6, 4/16/14

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.

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32 degrees this morning, the green green of  spring

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

4/2/04 Vol. 1 #3

Typical spring week warm, pleasant and sunny the first half and then gray the second half.  Still lots to do though, both on and off the farm.  Betsy and I are still trying to get out from under some of these “extra curricular” activities that we become engaged in, slowly but surely!  We do sit on a number of Boards of organizations that do work that we feel is important to the small farm community.  Betsy is the Treasurer and seems like general counsel for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG), “the” national body for growers of cut flowers other than roses and carnations.  I am in the third year on the board of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG), this is a great umbrella organization that does important work all across the South with family farms.  I encourage you to check out their website for all of the different areas that they work in www.ssawg.org .

How did I get onto this jag?  Oh yeah Monday nights long Farmers’ Market board meeting.  Most folks don’t realize that the Carrboro Farmers’ Market has the organized structure behind it that it does, they think that it “just happens”, you know organized chaos.  That is actually what we want people to think.  In reality the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Farmers’ Markets, Inc. is farmer run and controlled group.  It is directed by a seven member board elected by and from the vendor members.  We also currently have three paid staff that take care of the day to day market operations.  Betsy and I have been involved with the Board for sixteen years now in some capacity or another.  Why?  Because it is so important to our life and business.  The market accounts for 85% of our business and we also believe that it is one of the finest examples of how a local sustainable food system can work.  See you just thought you were buying fresh vegetables and flowers!

On the farm planting continues as we finish up the spring crops and start the warm season ones.  Dianthus (Sweet William), the first Sunflowers and a few other flowers went in and just about the last of the lettuce for the season.  Just before the rains came!  Good thing too because otherwise the end of the week would have been spent setting up irrigation.  Now it’s time to start cultivating/weeding, we got through the lettuces and a number of flowers before the rain.  Trellising peas and fertilizing the flowering shrubs like hydrangeas and viburnums.  Work in the greenhouse moving up the tomato transplants into bigger containers, 720 plants of ten varieties that will go into the field in three weeks.  More seeding in there too, the plants have to keep rolling out so we can stay on schedule.  In between a little construction work on the Packing shed, teaching a couple of classes at the Community college and…

Picture of the week

Look at all of those anemones!

5/17/06 Vol. 3 #10

The endless lettuce season rolls on.  At least it feels endless these days as I go out to cut four mornings a week.  The staff arrives each morning and I brief them on the days jobs and end with “of course I will be cutting lettuce if you need me”.  Mondays and Thursdays I cut for delivery to Weaver Street Market, Wednesdays and Fridays I cut for the markets and the restaurants.  Usually two, sometimes three, hours each morning.  We are now into the fourth week with one big week left to go.  Lettuce is one crop that I do all the harvesting of.  It is such and ephemeral plant that it takes sometime to develop an eye for which head is large enough and tender enough to cut.  In a few days the heads that I pass over will be big enough to then take, in a few more days they will be too far gone, getting tough and bitter.  The hotter it gets the faster this progression occurs.  The weather of the past few weeks has been about as ideal as we get in North Carolina as far as lettuce is concerned so the pressure has been off a bit.  It is easy for me to train the staff on what is the right size of turnip to pick and how big a bunch is but the lettuce thing is more like “is this flower at the right stage to harvest?”, it is subjective (hence the reason why Betsy cuts almost every flower stem on the farm).  Twenty four heads to a case, six cases and hour if I have to search around, ten cases and hour if the planting is really uniform, that is one head every fifteen seconds!  I am counting the seconds until the season is done.

Big event at the Market this Saturday.  The Market is having a fundraiser for our sister market in New Orleans and all of the farmers and fishers who where devastated by hurricane Katrina last fall.  Like the Carrboro Market which was open two days after hurricane Fran crippled this area in 1996, the Crescent City Market was up and running only weeks after the water receded in New Orleans.  Markets are an important social component for towns and cities as well as sources of food.  Muffulettas and Gumbo prepared by a dozen Triangle chefs will be available to go for $10/serving, for more details go to the Carrboro Market websiteAll proceeds will go to the Crescent City Markets and their efforts to bring their vendors back into production.  Come on out for the good food!

It has been the normal orchestrated chaos this week with more planting of summer crops, more zinnias, sunflowers, celosia, cucumbers and another planting of Cherokee Purple tomatoes.  Weeding, trellising of flowers and vegetables, mowing, harvesting and on and on.  The turkeys got so wild last week that we had to trim the wing feathers on all of them.  After chasing the little miscreants all over the farm, including one that spent the night out because we couldn’t catch him at all, we decided we had to make sure none of them could fly until they learned better behavior, maybe this is where the term “grounded” came from that our parents threatened us with as kids.  Well this was no idle threat for these birds!  They go out to the field permanently tomorrow.

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Sugar Snap Peas already loaded up with many more blooms on the top of the plants

8/29/07 Vol. 4 #23

What does local mean?  We are having this discussion within the Farmers’ Market right now because what seems fairly simple on the surface is not always so in todays agriculture.  The Carrboro Farmers’ Market has the tightest restrictions on this concept of any market we know of in the country.  We believe that our strict adherence to the rule that all products must be produced and sold by the original producer and that producer must live and produce them within 50 miles of Carrboro is the key to the great success of the market.  In the early days when that meant a farmer planted and tended tomatoes on their farm, within 50 miles, and then brought them, him or herself, to town on Saturday.  No middle men, just the farmer on their farm, then you the customer.  What makes it complicated is when further processing enters the picture, especially when it is something that takes resources greater than an individual farmer can reasonably manage.  Ever since our farmers have begun to produce and sell meat at market these once simple questions have become more complicated.  They raise that animal from just a few weeks old (or from birth) some times for years on their pastures.  In a perfect world they would then drive it only a few miles to a plant that can process it into not only various cuts but also other products that require further curing or cooking like bacon or sausages.  The problem is two fold, one there are only a few processing plants within the 50 mile radius of Carrboro and generally they don’t do any further processing.  Two, for the farmer to really make a profit from their animals they have to sell the whole thing, not just the pork chops, that means they really need to further process the rest of the animal.

The current debate is if that further processing isn’t also done within 50 miles then the product shouldn’t be sold at the market.  You know 50 is 50 is 50, doesn’t matter what the situation is.  One point of view is that those are the rules and the farmer can sell the products that don’t qualify somewhere else.  The other point of view is that these are products that are produced within 50 miles of the market by the seller and should be allowed to be sold even if they went off for processing and then came back (we are not talking about sending them to Italy or California, just eastern NC or South Carolina).  I guess the question really should be is what does “to produce” mean?  Is it that every last step in the process must be done by the farmer or the great majority of it?  The difference in the market could mean fewer kinds of products and fewer farmers.  It could also result in fewer customers for the rest of the farmers still at market, as some customers would maybe go somewhere else to buy their food, someplace that had a larger choice.  To me it is a matter of sustainability, as a member organization we need to make sure that our members are able to operate viable farm businesses as long as it is within our goals and mission.  We also need to view the market as a whole and make sure that it is viable too, if we narrow our product line so much as to lose farmers and customers then that is not sustainable either.  It is always something new and changing, I would be interested in know what your view of this is as well.

Picture of the Week
A hungry and thirsty turtle helping himself to a Charentais melon