Farmers' market opens
The Watauga County Farmers' Market has more than met the demand to produce locally grown food in a sustainable way during the four decades.
The market that began with a small group of farmers selling out of the beds of pick-up trucks has now become the informal town square of Boone, which is home to shoppers seeking fresh local goods and growers who embrace the chance to share abundance with the High Country.
"I have seen continual growth over the past six years with more people wanting fresh and local food," current Farmers' Market board president Matt Cooper said. "We are grateful for Horn in the West and that we have the ability to sale fresh food to local customers."
A WAMY Community Action (Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties) grant started the Watauga Farmers' Market in 1974 to have an outlet for local farmers and craftsman to have a market to sell their goods.
The market started in the Boonedocks for a few years, and then moved to Horn in the West. The market has grown significantly during the years, according to Bill Moretz, former market board president.
"Back in the 1990s, if you wanted organic produce you had to go to the farmers' market. No stores really carried organic food, unless it was shipped in from California," Moretz said.
"Back in the beginning, everything was done by volunteers and vendors. The structure has changed a lot now. After growing financially, the market was able to hire a manager to take care of things, which has helped the market to grow," Moretz said.
"One thing that has really changed is the fact that vendors now have to grow 100 percent of their product," Jeff Thomas, former market board president, said. "In the beginning, farmers only had to grow a portion of their produce -- the rest had to come from wholesale vendors in order to ensure the market had enough produce to sell."
The number of vendors has also grown. The market started with about 15 vendors, according to Thomas. From 1974 through the 1990s, almost everything was sold out by 10 a.m. Now, there is plenty of fresh produce and products for customers to buy.
"Many products are available in the market now that were not available back in the beginning," Moretz said. "The market has become much more sophisticated over time."
In the beginning, items such as meat and eggs weren't available. The farmers' market has had the ability to grow because of the unending support from the community: vendors and customers.
Groups and vendors have also learned to work together to better the market, according to Moretz.
Area growers and producers have plenty to offer this summer, including tomatoes, squashes, cucumbers, greens, apples, honey, peppers and much more. You'll also find locally raised, grass-fed beef, chicken and pork; pastas, pastries and bread; jams, jellies, eggs and cheeses; fresh-cut and dried flowers; arts and crafts from local artisans; and more.
In the early days, the market allowed the last day of every month to be a flea market day, according to Thomas.
"On flea market day, vendors could bring anything they wanted to sale. Doing away with this concept has bettered the market's image. We didn't really want to be known as a flea market," he said.
Another major change that improved the market was requiring craftsman to be juried by a committee to be able to sell crafts. This has allowed for a higher quality market, according to Thomas.
"Music has also changed the market for the better," he said. "Until about 15 years ago, the market didn't have music during the season. Now, four to five bands play every season, making it more of a social scene. People come to the market to hang out, socialize and listen to music."
Watauga County Farmers' Market has an exciting year planned with live music, cooking demonstrations, children's activities, free raffles for market gift certificates, and as always, the opportunity for people to buy many local products.
Saturday, the first day of the season for the market, included an opening ceremony with Boone Mayor Andy Ball, a cooking demonstration with Sam Ratchford from the local Vidalia Restaurant, Kids' Corner Activities and music from Fat Face Band, making the day full of excitement and camaraderie.
"The farmers' market has been Boone's town square since 1974," Ball said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday. "This is such a special place that we all love coming to every week."
The Watauga County Farmers' Market is open on Saturdays through October from 8 a.m. to noon and Saturdays through November from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Horn in the West in Boone.
"Each Saturday morning during the season, up to 70 vendors offer quality local products in one of the largest and liveliest markets in Western North Carolina," Tori Cox, market manager, said. "Come and visit from May through November to experience the sounds, smells, tastes and friendly atmosphere of the High Country."
"We are a family," Cheryl Piracci, market board treasurer, said. "All the vendors love the market -- it's part of us. The market has become a wonderful community gathering place where vendors form relationships with each other and the customers."
Cash, debit cards and EBT cards are accepted. For more information, visit http://www.wataugacountyfarmersmarket.org or call (828) 355-4918.