Tuesday, April 30, 2013

TOP STORY >> Farmers markets start Saturday

Leader staff writers

Even though the weather might not seem to agree, spring is here and that means farmers markets are open with locally-grown produce, homemade soaps, baked goods, jams, jellies, pickles and crafts.

The Cabot market will start its sixth year on Saturday. Matt Webber from Cabot City Beautiful, which runs the market, says he expects all the usual vendors this year and more.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Webber said about the increased interest in this year’s market.

It’s possible that the vendors could outnumber the available parking spaces at First Security Bank on Second Street, where the market has been located for several years. If that happens, Webber is talking to Centennial Bank about using the grassy area between the two banks for vendors who don’t need to sell out of trucks, he said.

Entertainers scheduled so far include a dulcimer player and a gospel quartet. But the bluegrass band he is talking with has not committed to performing there yet, Webber said.

The Argenta Farmers Market at Sixth and Main streets in North Little Rock opened the first Saturday in April.

Barnhill Orchards of Cabot is one producer who sells at both. “All of the produce we bring to the markets is picked fresh,” Ekko Barnhill said.

This year, Barnhill’s offerings include kohlrabi, kale and baby bok choy. “We’re trying to grow produce that is new to the community,” she said.

Barnhill Orchards will have strawberries, spinach, collard greens and lettuce this month. Blackberries and peaches will be ready in June.

Throughout the season, the farm brings staples like okra, squash, zucchini,
sweet corn, purple hull peas, potatoes, cucumbers, Vidalia onions and honey
dew melons to the markets.

“We like to think that anything that is at the store you can buy
fresh from us,” she said. “Our prices are competitive. We try to encourage people to buy

Kelly Carney of North Pulaski Farms in Jacksonville also sells at the Argenta Farmers Market. But starting in mid-May he will be taking his produce to the Jacksonville Farmers Market.

Carney said he sells at producer-only markets. Some markets allow “peddlers” who buy vegetables and fruits wholesale, Carney explained. But he doesn’t go to those markets.

“Direct channel sales are 75 percent of my sales,” he said. “Not only (that), I get to talk to people. I like to talk to people about growing food.”

The advantage of buying from a farmer is, “there is a large variety of seasonal produce,” Carney noted.

This year, look for broccolini, a sprouting broccoli that is purple and very sweet and can’t be found in local stores, he said.

The Jacksonville Farmers Market in front of the community center opens Saturday morning, but it will also be open on Tuesdays from 4 to 8 p.m.

Recreation coordinator Dana Rozenski said the market is still accepting vendors and is hoping for more crafters. So far she expects to see handmade wooden chimes, birdhouses and cedar chests. The fresh produce will include greens, cabbage, snap peas, beans, corn, squash, peppers, cucumbers, potatoes and herbs, she said.

The Sherwood Farmers Market will be open on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. beginning May 9 at the corner of North Hills Boulevard and Country Club Road.

The market will be open through June 27, but it closes in July and August because of the summer heat.

Keep Sherwood Beautiful is organizing the market again this year. Executive Director Betty Barnhardt said it could also be open in the fall, weather permitting, but that has yet to be decided.

At least five vendors who participated in the market last year are expected to return.

The vendors she has heard from include Barnhill Orchard of Cabot, KB Honey of Sherwood, North Pulaski Farms, Whole Harvest Farms and Tommy Sue’s Critters, which offers homemade soaps and lotions.

Frosty Treats may attend the market as well, Barnhardt said.

The animal shelter will be there with the goal of adopting out some of its cats
and dogs. And, like the organizers of the Cabot market, Barnhardt is looking for entertainers.

The oldest market in the area, the Beebe flea market that was once part of the livestock sale barn on Hwy. 367, has so many different types of vendors that it is sometimes overlooked. But owner Sue Blakemore says make no mistake about it, it’s a farmers market too.

Yes, the market has livestock, caged birds, crafts, homemade baked goods and many food vendors, but it also has fresh produce all year. When spring arrives and local gardens start producing, it has locally grown fresh produce.

There are also vendors who sell plants for anyone who wants to grow their own garden. Other vendors offer tools and antiques. A man from Illinois who sells chainsaw carvings is expected to be there this year.

The Beebe flea market was started by accident 48 years ago by Blakemore’s mother, Mrs. Sid Guyot, who likes to be called Mrs. Sid.

Blakemore said an elderly couple from Kensett set up a stand in front of the livestock sale barn and started selling axe and other types of wooden handles. Eventually, their stand became so popular that it was blocking access to the barn. So Mrs. Sid moved it out of the way a little and another seller set up a stand. Another and another followed.

Today, as many as 230 vendors are open for business on Saturdays when the weather cooperates.

The livestock barn changed hands a couple of times and is now a trucking company. But the flea market is going strong despite some problems with the city, which annexed it about seven years ago. When no parking signs went up on the highway beside the flea market, Blakemore and her brother turned 15 acres between the flea market and the railroad tracks into a parking lot.

Now, the unlicensed food vendors have licenses from the health department and the women selling baked goods have a copy of the relatively new law that allows them to sell what they bake at home.