May 1, 2009
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Beth Rogers was delighted with her unexpected find. It wasn''t a long-lost locket, a forgotten $20 bill in a coat pocket, or even a great sale on spring shoes. No, Beth was thrilled to discover lettuce -- fresh, crisp lettuce at the Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market on opening day April 25. Like most loyal market followers, for Chef Beth, of J. Broussard''s Restaurant, the new growing season couldn''t get here quickly enough.
Fertile fields in and around the Golden Triangle are beginning to yield their homegrown goodness, and Main Street Columbus and the Farmers'' Market committee are hosting "Celebration Saturday" May 9 from 7-10 a.m. to officially launch the season.
The community fete, now in its third year, is becoming a rite of spring, celebrating nature''s bounty and the rejuvenated market. In addition to produce, several area artisans will display their hand-crafted wares. Jewelry, greeting cards, flutes and wood crafts, pottery, soaps and candles are only a sampling.
Aromas of baked goods and just-brewed coffee will mingle with "hallos" of friends greeting friends and the music of Drew Dieckmann as early birds and savvy cooks stroll from vendor to vendor. At 7:30 a.m., everyone is invited to a cooking demonstration as Rogers shares professional tips -- and free samples -- while preparing homemade buttermilk biscuits, strawberry butter and honey butter.
Friends of the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library will host locally-grown authors. Columbus writers including Bill Andrews, Ira Carter, Deborah Schumaker, Valerie Dodson and Paul Swain will be on hand with their diverse collection of books.
Youngsters are invited to join in a Mother''s Day art activity supervised by the mayor''s Youth Council while parents seek out market finds running the gamut from free-range eggs to spring flowers and herbs from the greenhouses of Palmer Home for Children.
From field to kitchen
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday now through October, growers'' trucks will rumble up to the renovated market facility at Second Avenue North and Second Street North, drop their tailgates or set up their tables and offer the freshest produce, most of it only hours from the field.
"There''s definitely a substantial increase in the number of growers over the past couple of years," Rogers said. "I think they''ve increased by 2,000 percent since the revitalization began.."
The tradition of farmers bringing vegetables and fruits to town harkens to the days of horse-drawn wagons. A handful of longtime local growers kept the custom alive through the decades. But three years ago, a committee calling themselves the "Heirloom Tomatoes" rallied a community-wide cooperative effort to vastly expand and publicize the market concept -- a win-win situation for vendors and the public.
Now the Farmers'' Market is open from 6-10 a.m. each Tuesday and Thursday and from 7-10 a.m. on Saturdays. According to Main Street Columbus, nearly 40 growers are registered to sell produce every week.
"My favorite thing is to get there as early as possible and find something really great that there''s not much of," said Rogers, who incorporates as much local produce as possible in the restaurant''s fare. "I really enjoy finding the rare thing I didn''t expect to find."
Each visit can vary as different produce reaches its peak. Rogers advises shoppers to browse with an open mind.
"One of the best things I''ve seen is more farmers trying to grow new things," she said. "Last year, somebody was growing lemon cucumbers; they were about the size of a baseball, yellow and white striped, and cool-looking. ... You never know when you''ll find something that can be a source of inspiration."
That inspiration is infectious. Expanding on the Farmers'' Market gourmet dinners J. Broussard''s hosted last season, two other local restaurateurs and a bed-and-breakfast have joined with Chef Beth to present the "Farmers'' Market Gourmet Series" in 2009.
J Broussard''s; Chef Sarah Labensky, of Front Door/Back Door; Chef Margaret Ann Borland, of Table of Plenty; and Burnette Avakian, of Shadowlawn Bed and Breakfast, will offer an assortment of brunches and dinners in the months ahead. Each is donating 10 percent of the proceeds to the market''s improvement fund, Rogers said.
Community support has given the market lot a welcome facelift in a relatively short time span. A new Farmers'' Market sign and more covered bays offering shade are just two.
The premier Giant Possum Town Yard Sale, attended by an estimated 1,000 people April 4, raised almost $2,000 for the market. A drawing May 9 for a multitude of prizes ranging from a fig tree from Smiths Landscaping to a $50 gas gift certificate from Sanders Oil will increase the coffers, too. Every $10 ticket sold helps underwrite continued facility improvements and extras like the local musicians who add so much to the weekend atmosphere.
"That money goes straight back into things like the music, workshops and children''s activities," said Beth Imes, one of the original "Heirloom Tomatoes."
New to the market this year will be freshly-brewed coffee each Saturday provided by either the Front Door/Back Door, Kudoz or Mississippi Coffeehouse, according to Imes. And to promote the "greening" of Columbus, new eco-friendly Farmers'' Market reusable shopping bags are now for sale.
Each morning the market bell rings, signaling the beginning of trade, is a small celebration in itself -- a recognition of a gathering place that serves as a vital conduit between growers and consumers, a link that keeps a community close to its roots.
Photographs of past seasons found at www.hitchinglotfarmersmarket.com help tell the story worth celebrating. For good, old-fashioned fun and goodness ... it''s hard to beat "locally grown, made or conjured up."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.