|Jay and Judy Chandler’s booth is popular at the Cabot Farmers Market. Their cinnamon rolls and fried pies sell out fast.|
Leader staff writer
“Are these your eggs?” Janice Main asks as she stops in front of a long table at the Cabot Farmers Market on South Second Street.
“They are,” answers Anne Carman as her husband, James, grabs a dozen eggs from the cooler—it has a big Razorback sticker on the side—for another customer.
At home in Lonoke County, the couple have about 100 hens of various varieties like Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Barred Rock, and they’re free range, she adds proudly.
Main says, “I like knowing the growers…I like fresh eggs.”
Their eggs, at $3 a dozen, are proving as popular as the Carmans’ pecan turtles.
The three women, including the market’s co-manager, Becky Boyett, working the entry booth, unanimously declare the turtles “awesome.”
Nearby Austin Talbert plays “Shuckin’ the Corn” on the banjo while his father, Jim Talbert, takes a break. Both are from Cabot.
Austin Talbert says he is raising money to pay for his future college education.
Besides, he explains that he doesn’t mind the early Saturday morning hours. “We like to jam,” he says.
“We try to have something for everyone,” says Matt Webber, Cabot Farmers Market co-manager, such as live entertainment or a freebie for the kids.
They often invite the Cabot Animal Shelter’s mobile adoption unit to the market.
More than helping Webber with the operation, fellow co-manager Becky Boyett says she believes in eating locally.
She, too, wants to know who grows the food she’s putting on her table and adds, “I like knowing it’s as fresh as possible.”
In order to promote their vendors’ products she says once a month they draw a customer’s name and that person wins a “giveaway basket,” which is filled with a variety of wares.
Market rules encourage Arkansas grown produce. Venders are allowed to sell third-party produce, but it must be marked so.
Price gouging isn’t allowed and neither are flea market and automotive products.
Webber says, “We’re a friendly market, and all the vendors get along.”
The Cabot Farmers Market is unique because the vendors—today’s count is 20—make the rules and set the fees.
A booth space—most consist of pickup trucks with dropped tailgates serving as storage, cash register and additional display at the rear, a much-needed covering and a long table or three—costs a vendor $5.
For an extra $5, the market will throw in the canopy, Boyett says. Much less than rental fees at most central Arkansas markets.
Jay and Judy Chandler’s old-fashioned cinnamon rolls attract a lot of attention.
“They’re a favorite,” Judy Chandler says and then adds, “So are our fried pies, our jellies…”
She says they used old recipes, like grandma’s, with real milk, real butter and yeast.
“You can taste the difference,” Jay Chandler says.
Loyal customer Lori Boever agrees.
The rolls “are amazing and you can’t beat their Coca-Cola cake,” Boever adds.
The Chandlers have been working the market for about five years while a few spaces down, Brandon Arnall, recently retired from the Air Force, and his wife, Karen, set up a booth for the first time. He has a half-acre garden at home, and his table is full of yellow squash and zucchini, cucumbers and new potatoes. His squash are five for $3, also priced less than most other farmers’ markets in central Arkansas.
Still, first-day sales are slow, he reports.
“But, hey, you build up business, right?” he asks optimistically.
A few booths over, Chuck DeSellems is selling D’s Beez Honey while Karen Bailey has a special on goat’s milk soap. Magness Creek Farm has red and white potatoes but sold out of onions by mid-morning.
James Langston, his farm is located south of Searcy but east of Beebe, grows seven varieties of tomatoes, including Bradley pink and German red strawberry.
The strawberry tomatoes really look like strawberries, says customer Duke Rex pointing to container. He loves Langston’s tomatoes and his preferred way of enjoying them: “I just slice ’em, salt ’em and eat ’em.”
THE FRESH ALTERNATIVE
The market was started in 2008 and runs from May 7 until Sept. 19. It’s open from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday.
By day, Webber is a mailman but his passion is volunteer work. He’s past president of Cabot City Beautiful, a nonprofit that organizes the market. He’s been with the market since its first day.
Webber says it was originally located next to the railroad tracks, and of course, that didn’t work.
“It was impossible to have a conversation,” he half jokes.
The market’s vendors then moved to First Security Bank at the corner of Main and Second streets.
“The bank was wonderful and a great host, but we were busting at the seams. It was a good problem to have…We really needed to move,” Webber says.
Then about three years ago, the Renew Community Church offered their parking lot as a location.
Jay Chandler likes the new location and says, “There’s more space for the vendors and more parking for customers. It’s growing and that’s bringing in more customers.”
Boyett agrees, “This location is a good fit.”
Still, Webber says the long-term goal is to find a permanent home for the market, either on city property or through a donation.
Then he adds, “A pavilion would be nice.” It would offer vendors protection from the rain and the heat.
But no matter, Webber says happily, “We’re growing.