Tailgaitin’

Hanging out at the North Asheville Tailgate Market feels a little like spending a day in a community garden.

The 10-feet-by-10-feet vendors’ booths resemble a patchwork quilt of assorted vegetables, herbs and cut flowers. Visitors resemble bees, as they flit from one booth to another. The smell of fresh-baked goods delicately wafts among the sounds of homegrown music and children playing. From fresh strawberries to shiitake mushrooms to hand-baked focaccia, there’s truly something for everyone.

According to vendor Vanessa Campbell, it’s that eclectic combination of ingredients that attracts people week after week. “Folks seem to get out for strawberries where they might not for turnips,” Campbell muses. The young gardener operates Full Sun Farms in Sandy Mush with her fiance, Alex Brown. She’s also the coordinator of this year’s North Asheville Tailgate Market, which runs May through November.

During a recent visit to the vibrant community market, I counted approximately 75 visitors browsing the colorful array of booths that spilled over with fresh vegetables, herbal soaps, jars of honey, baskets of mushrooms, family recipes and home-baked goodies. “This is so good! Where else [other than Asheville] can you find cajeta?,” an elderly woman commented, as she sampling one of the fresh goat cheeses available at one booth. (Cajeta is a Mexican, goat’s-milk caramel sauce.)

The smiles and general hum of conversation between growers and shoppers made the place seem more like a family gathering than a fresh-produce market. “It can be as much about seeing your friends as it is a venue for fresh, quality-grown produce,” Campbell noted.

She explained that both conventional and organic produce are available at the approximately 38-member local tailgate market. Members comply with standards maintaining quality, freshness and variety of produce. Among the nonfood items sold, crafts are an emphasis. “We try to encourage crafts that are made from homegrown material,” Campbell notes. “It’s a fine balancing act, determining what really fits … through experience, it seems to be working out quite well.”

Ruth Uffleman and her husband ,Wayne, own Blue Hill Organic Farm in Madison County. Asked about her experience with marketing her herbs, nasturtiums and potatoes at the local market, she observes, “There’s such a spectrum of customers, young and old. … Each year we like to catch up with old friends, see our repeat customers and share our harvest.”

The North Asheville Tailgate Market offers its bounty in spring, summer and fall.

The North Asheville Tailgate Market, the area’s oldest organic community market, is located behind Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company (675 Merrimon Ave.) and open Saturday, 7 a.m.-noon, and Wednesday, 3-7 p.m. For more info, call Vanessa Campbell at (828) 683-1607 or visit www.brwm.org/northashevilletailgatemarket.

Way to grow

Mountain Partners in Agriculture (MPIA) is a local, community-based collaborative focused on sustaining farms and rural communities. MPIA accomplishes this mission through a multi-layered program that includes farmland protection, sustainable-production systems and regional marketing and educational programs.

In 1995, MPIA, with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, established the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP). The emphasis of the ASAP initiative centers on local consumption and locally grown foods. To get an update on the local tailgate-market and regional farming news, Mountain Xpress recently caught up with Charlie Jackson, ASAP’s projects coordinator and the president of the Buncombe/Madison County Tailgate Association.

Mountain Xpress: ASAP’s motto, “Connecting Community, Fresh Food and Good Taste,” seems to sum up the mission of the regional organization.

Charlie Jackson: Tailgate markets are reflective of the community. We have a diverse audience of growers and shoppers. It’s interesting to observe the range of ages and backgrounds — from the old-timers who have been farming for years to recent gardeners. They all share the same standard for producing fresh produce and taking pride in the quality of their products.

Vendors at the local tailgate markets are wonderful at coming up with new ideas and responding to what customers want. A couple of years ago, homemade breads, baked goods and fresh coffee opened up a whole new dimension for some vendors. Now, it’s a big part of the business. In other words, local growers are cultivating their business and customers. We have had some growers express that nearly 85-percent of their business comes from repeat customers.

MX: Why do you think these community markets are so popular?

CJ: The local markets have a homegrown feel to them … with the music, the mingling of customers and children in the background. … They take on a sense of a street fair. There’s so much going on. It has a family feel to it. The consistency, freshness and quality of produce draws customers back to the markets week after week. It’s fun for all who participate.

MX: “Quality and freshness” rang out among both the vendors and shoppers that I spoke with at a recent visit to the North Asheville market and the French Broad Co-op [market].

CJ: When we invest in locally grown options we support our local landscape. When you “eat from your landscape” you preserve local farms. Buying locally also means fresher products. Within five days, leafy vegetables may lose up to 50-percent of their nutrients.

Our Get Fresh! program is geared specific to restaurants and growers. Restaurant owners contract to buy and feature locally grown food. Our apple logo appears on the store fronts and windows of participating businesses including Earth Fare, Laughing Seed [and] Bridge Street Cafe in Hot Springs.

MX: I understand that ASAP 2002 campaign plans on launching a “Buy Appalachian Guide to Local & Local Organic Food.”

CJ: Yeah, more and more people are requesting locally grown and organically grown foods. We’re making it easier for the community to learn about local resources through the guide, advertisements and our “buy local” apple logo that participating restaurants display in their businesses. We are releasing 2,500 copies of our guide to locally grown food and local organic foods [in mid-June]. It includes a listing of participating growers, area restaurants, grocery stores, caterers and tailgate markets that offer fresh, locally grown produce. It will be available free through our Web site [www.BuyAppalachian.org], bookstores, local grocers and at the eight tailgate markets.

MX: What other ASAP programs are you excited about?

CJ: Our Growing Minds program, which reconnects students with the region’s rich agricultural heritage, is one of our most recent projects. The innovative program [funded by the Community Foundation] works with students, teachers and farmers through a gardening curricula that complies with the North Carolina standard course of study.

Through gardening, students experientially learn … growing concepts utilizing nonfiction, math, science, cultural studies journaling and more. Hazelwood Elementary in Haywood County recently celebrated the end of the school year with a harvest day. With the help of traditional farmers, kids are learning about the ways of their ancestors, and at the same time, they’re learning how to grow fresh foods.

Other local tailgate markets

• Black Mountain Tailgate Market (Vance Street just off Hwy. 9 in Black Mountain), Saturdays, 8:30-11:30 a.m. Info: Elaine Hamil, 669-4003 or email: blackmountaintailgate@hotmail.

• Fairview Tailgate Market (Hwy. 74 beside Angelo’s Restaurant), Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Info: Walter Harrill, 628-9377 or email: imladrisfarm@earthlink.net

• French Broad Coop Tailgate Market (90 Biltmore Ave.), Saturdays. 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Info: Mary Dixon, 622-3647 or email pete@pex.net

• Warren Wilson College Garden Market (patio of the Gladfelter Building, central campus), Fridays, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Info: Donna Price, 771-3066 or email: dprice@warren-wilson.edu.

• Wednesday Evening Downtown Farmer’s Market (76 Biltmore Ave.), 3-6 p.m. Info: Amy Volz, 251-5160 or email amnramon@buncombe.main.nc.us.

• West Asheville Tailgate Market (Haywood Road, between the West End Bakery and the Haywood Road Market), Wednesdays, 4-7p.m. Info: Missy Huger, 665-4472 or email: jakesfarm@msn.com

• Madison Co. Tailgate Market (across from Mars Hill College tennis courts, exit 11 off of Rt. 19/23), Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1p.m. Info: Gail Lundsford/Steve Bardwell, 683-2902.

For info on other local tailgate markets, visit: www.BuyAppalachian.org

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