Even in the middle of winter, the outdoor Wake Forest Farmers Market is a busy place.
Customers move from tent to tent in search of organic produce, pasture-raised meat and handmade crafts and jewelry. The market’s fan base continues to build with the growing popularity of the nationwide “buy local” movement.
“Local means different things to different people,” said Bob Sykes, who was a human resources professional in Washington, D.C., and is now enjoying his retirement career working his Turtle Mist farm in Franklinton. “For a chain store it might be 500 miles, but for us you can’t be here as a vendor unless you’re within a 75-mile radius.”
The Wake Forest Farmers Market opened downtown more than 10 years ago to give residents access to local products. The location shifted up the street last year, but the core mission remains the same.
“We are about farmers having direct market access to customers,” said Terri Wilkinson, an early organizer of the market. “Consumers can come and talk to the farmer so they know where their food comes from and they can visit the farm. It gives a lot of transparency to the growing practices.”
Vendors at the Wake Forest Farmers Market are only allowed to sell things they personally raise, grow or craft. The farmers who bring their foods to the market are committed to practices they say are kinder to the Earth and to the animals they are raising.
They agree that customers may come the first time to buy healthier foods, but they come back again and again because these fresh offerings taste better.
“You buy a dozen eggs from me and you will never buy them in a store again if you can avoid it,” said Ranell Bridges, proprietor of Two Bridges Farm in Louisburg. “The yolk is going to be sunshine yellow, almost an orange-yellow, and you’ll love the way they stand up in the pan.”
Seeking healthy options
Bridges, a former corporate consultant, and her husband, Gary, are fulfilling a dream of owning a farm with pasture-raised goats, chickens and pigs. More than 20 years ago, before she started farming, Bridges became concerned about pesticides and chemicals and their potential effects on her two children.
“I think for a lot of people, it starts with their kids,” Bridges said. “They start realizing what they’re feeding their kids is not what they want to be feeding their kids.”
Back then Bridges ordered her organic foods by mail. Now customers such as Laura Bowen of Wake Forest can regularly shop for organics at the farmers market.
“A lot of people who come here are well-educated and care, and they see the difference in their health,” Bowen said. “They know there is a difference in eating processed stuff and week-old stuff.”
Gabie Schultz, of Gabie’s Garden Vegetables in Wake Forest, does not use pesticides as she grows her produce.
“We grow in raised beds with compost, so the soil is nutrient-rich and produces something that is more nutrient-rich,” Schultz said. “It’s a big difference and I think my customers know that.”
Alyssa Belk, a market regular from Louisburg, says the market is the best place to buy the organic foods she wants for her family.
“You get to meet people and get good quality food, and you know it’s good for you,” Belk said.
It’s not just the shoppers who appreciate the interaction at the market.
“We love and enjoy dealing directly with the customers,” said Sykes of Turtle Mist Farm. “One of the things we get that I didn’t get as a vice president of human resources is appreciation. You get a lot of positive feedback from the customers.”
“To me, growing farmers and growing food and feeding nutritious food is the solution to everything,” Wilkinson said. “It nurtures the Earth, the soil, health for people and the community. Everything else is fluff on top. This is the only thing that counts.”