Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine

CHRONICLING THE JOYS OF FOOD AND WINE IN THE CHARLOTTE METROPOLITAN REGION

ready to support your local farmer?

by brianna melanson
 

It’s difficult to think of a more colorful, sunny place than a farmers market. Nothing yells summer like plaid tablecloths, cartons of blueberries, baskets of petunias, and freshly-squeezed lemonade. The Charlotte Regional, Kings Drive, NoDa, The Village at Robinson Farm, and Matthews farmers markets offer shopping and social experiences that benefit your health and the community. Only at farmers markets are you able to know exactly how the products were grown, raised, caught, or made.

Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, built in 1985, is the largest farmers market in Mecklenburg County. They allow both North and South Carolina farmers on 22 acres, with room for 200 vendors. Attracting nearly 500,000 visitors per year, only here will you see three banquet-sized tables full of juicy watermelon, necessary to accommodate all of these hungry people. The fruit salads and other specialties at your family BBQs this summer will be on another level! You can spend hours going through all of the diverse vendors here, so start by getting your coffee fix at Dunx coffee. It’s conveniently open the majority of the week if you don’t want to go during busy Saturdays or have a conflicting work schedule.

There are also smaller farmers markets throughout Charlotte that cater to individual neighborhoods like Matthews and NoDa. You’re sure to find one close to your home to do some food shopping without the fluorescent lights or chemical-infused produce. This is especially helpful if you’re on a budget and looking for extra fresh ingredients that taste excellent. You get the best quality for your money and usually pay the same or less than what you would at a chain supermarket. Farmers are knowledgeable on which month certain fruits and vegetables thrive and will sell them when they know the produce is in the best condition.

The Village at Robinson Farm market has been run by farmers Jason and Kristen Stone of Unity Farms since 2010. They’re the same farmers who initiated the pop-up farmers markets in Center City. Jim Houser generously donated the funds to the couple to make a beautiful market in this highly-sought-after location in Ballantyne. Jennifer says, “The frontage on Rea Road could have been a fast food chain, drug store, or bank. Taking parking away from rent-paying retail and restaurants for a farmers market is a gutsy and challenging thing to accomplish, but everyone cooperated and it worked.” Since it’s 100 percent farmer operated, all of the proceeds go directly back to sustain the farm and the family. It became so popular on Saturdays that they decided to open on Wednesdays as well. The Village educates local schools and camps about healthy food, farming, and nutrition.

Locals pick up a picnic basket to fill up with their fruits, veggies, and a variety of herbs from Thai basil to cilantro to mojito mint to golden sage. Jennifer adds, “It is a place where you will see customers exchanging recipes on what to do with rhubarb and rutabagas and offering help carrying baskets to their cars.” Sometimes you’ll see special guest vendors selling fresh goat cheese, empanadas, or kettle corn. The ladies from MA Farms in Pineville have a booth set up selling the most gorgeous flower bouquets.

If you’re specifically looking for flowers, look no further than the Kings Drive Farmers Market. Next to the produce, they have a large, wonderful nursery for your flower garden needs, as well as a table of $10 floral arrangements that have won multiple BoB Awards. The baked goods at Farmhouse Bakery and the fresh eggs and chicken from Salem Hills Farm are not to be missed either. Not to mention, they have an amazing view of the Uptown skyline.

Norman and David Simpson of Simpson’s Produce run the Kings Drive market and have the helping hands of their parents and seven sons. When they aren’t at the market, they’re working hard at their farm in Indian Trail. Their grandfather started selling produce sporadically from this lot in the 1940s. They’ve all become familiar with the customers, many of whom come to restock their fridges every time they’re open. A local customer, Nancy, has been visiting this market for 40 years. When she moved to Charlotte with her late husband, they bought their first Christmas tree here. Now, she frequents the summer market with her three children for fresh fruits and vegetables. The Simpsons grow their own okra, kale, collards, and greens without the use of any chemicals. Norman says they’re most popular items are tomatoes from Edmund Farms in Chadbourn, NC, and South Carolina peaches from Cooley Family Farm.

The more we buy local, the more food is not being transported in gas-guzzling trucks far distances.

Simpson’s Produce provides ingredients for about 30 of all your favorite local restaurants like Kindred, Rooster’s, Mama Ricotta’s, Lupie’s Cafe, Mimosa Grill, The Lodge, WP Kitchen, Dogwood, King’s Kitchen, Peculiar Rabbit, and Hello, Sailor. Norman cannot say enough how fantastic the chefs are at these places.

Matthews Farmers Market won the Mecklenburg County Wipe-Out Waste Ambassador Award for promoting sustainable methods and recycling. To do your part, remember to bring your reusable bags in order to restrict the use of plastic bags. Since being established in 1991, this Matthews market has grown to provide over 50 producer-only vendors within a 50 mile radius of Matthews, besides the North Carolina coastal fishermen. Unlike the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, there is no re-selling allowed here. Market Manager Paulette Wilkes says, “The farmers market has helped the downtown area to, once again, be the functioning heart of Matthews by providing for the basic human need for sustenance.” At the end of the market day, customers and vendors donate fresh produce to the Matthews Help Center as part of the community outreach program called "Share the Harvest.” Mark your calendars for the upcoming baking and tomato tasting competitions in July.

Tucked behind Smelly Cat Coffee in NoDa is the mural- painted NoDa Company Store. On Saturday mornings, local vendors who grow or make the products themselves set up a cozy farmers market. Orrman’s Cheeseshop, who hosts Raclette night every Thursday at 7th Street Public Market, is there to sell specialty gorgonzola dolce, gouda, mozzarella, cheddar, and more. You may recognize Christine’s Konditorei from the Charlotte Christmas Village, with homemade German cake, pies, and tarts. Baker and scientist Monica Nye created A Smart Cookie and provides additional delicious baked goods at the market. Lazy Heron Farms has all your ecological vegetables, and Greenman Farms sells annuals, perennials, and shrubs. Lastly, Two Moons Family Farms will be there with  grass-fed beef, pastured non-GMO pork and chicken, and non-GMO, grain-fed Wagyu beef.

So much love and care is put into a farmers market on a daily basis. Remember to take time to thank the farmers and local business owners for all they do. Farmers markets are an environmentally-friendly place to do all of your healthy food shopping. They’re the perfect summer spot to find fresh ingredients while meeting new people in your area. Paulette Wilkes exclaims, “As market manager, I feel like I’m planning a big party every week!” So, come out and enjoy the farmers market “parties!”