Before the morning chill disappears from the air this Saturday, while some of us are still sweetly dreaming, farmers will unfurl their shade tents and set out their tender spring harvests. Bakers will assemble racks and pile them with fragrant loaves, fresh from the oven. Cheese makers will graciously uncover samples of their most delicate and striking varieties. Crafters will prop up their works of art, and musicians will fill the air with festive sounds.
Get ready to add a new outing to your weekly to-do list: This Saturday, April 19, will see the opening of the Asheville City Market, at the corner of Eagle and South Charlotte streets downtown. The market will be an attraction for locals and visitors alike, a place to see and be seen, a vibrant weekly happening.
“The market is restricted to producer-only vendors,” says manager Mike McCreary, “meaning that whoever is handing you a product—whether it’s a muffin, cheese, produce or a piece of handcrafted clothing—that hand had something to do with producing that product.”
The market will also draw producers from a fairly restricted area, generally within 60 miles of Asheville. All of this seeks to ensure that the products offered are as fresh as possible and that the benefits of selling at the market accrue directly to the small farmers and artisans of neighboring counties.
It also means customers will have the pleasure of meeting those producers.
The Asheville City Market has been in the planning stages for nearly two-and-a-half years. Alan Salmon of Wildwood Herbal in Weaverville, who’ll be selling his produce and perennial flower starts, has served on the Planning Committee during that time. And the idea for the market, he says, goes back further still.
“About 10 years ago,” Salmon recalls, “I was saying I thought Asheville was ripe for this kind of market.” In 2005, several of the farmers who’d been kicking around the idea of a large, central downtown market obtained logistical support from the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, and planning began in earnest.
“It’s been a dedicated group of people working together from the beginning,” notes committee member Amy Ager of Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview, who’ll be peddling fresh, pasture-raised meats. “The hardest part was finding a site for the market that had enough room for 100 vendors, plus ample parking, water, electricity and restrooms.”
At its 2007 retreat, the Asheville City Council made the market a priority. Late that year, after the Planning Committee and representatives of the city’s Economic Development Office had collaborated on a search for the best potential site, they zeroed in on the spacious Public Works Building parking lot. According to Ager, “The city stepped up. We’re very satisfied with the site we’ve found.”
The growers were motivated by evidence that while there were many happy and excited customers looking for local produce—and an increasing number of local farmers looking to sell theirs—the necessary meeting place was missing.
“Although tailgate markets in Asheville are already very strong, there are a lot of farmers that don’t have access to the market,” explains Chris Owen of the Spinning Spider Creamery in Mars Hill, whose award-winning goat cheeses are already well-established at regional tailgate markets.
In fact, many local markets have lengthy waiting lists, “and every year it was a painful process, going through the list of waiting farmers, deciding who would be able to join,” notes Owen. “There are newly emerging farmers in Western North Carolina with great ideas and great drive, and customers out there that are excited about local food—the bottleneck was lack of access.”
One such “emerging” farmer is Liz Holloway of Bend of Ivy Farm in Marshall, who’s just started her first growing season. Upon her arrival in the area, Holloway immediately began investigating ways to sell her fresh, organically grown, specialty vegetables directly to consumers. And while she found local growers to be friendly and welcoming, many of the markets near her farm were already filled to capacity.
“I went around and talked to all of the market managers, and I was very lucky to get into the new Asheville City Market,” says Holloway.
[Asheville resident Ginger Kowal is a UNCA senior majoring in biology.]
The Asheville City Market will be held every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the remainder of 2008 at the corner of Eagle and South Charlotte streets. The market is still accepting new vendors for this season. For more information, contact Mike McCreary at (838) 348-0340, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.asapconnections.org and click on Asheville City Market for a vendor application form.