The Sampson County Farmers Market opened its season Wednesday to the largest turnout of vendors and patrons it has ever seen. Everything from produce to crafts and hand-stitched dresses to homemade soap was sold in what many labeled the “rebirth” of the market.
From buyers to sellers, and everyone in between, all shared hope for the future of the farmers market, which enjoyed a positive beginning to a new chapter. Many also expressed cautious optimism for the potential of the farmers market, but said it would be up to vendors, consumers and the community to continue their support to sustain it.
“I’m so happy with how it’s going. I’m so excited,” said Clinton-Sampson planner Audrey Whetten, who led the organization of a committee dedicated to revamping the market. “I think there’s a lot of potential. The community seems really excited and supportive, and that’s a great sign.”
The farmers market officially opened at 9 a.m. Wednesday and stayed open until 1 p.m. at the Clinton City Market on Lisbon Street. The market will be open at the same hours on Saturdays through October.
“Today is our genesis of beautiful days ahead,” said Carol Mirelez-Monk, one of many farmers market volunteers on hand, all wearing green shirts. “We want people to realize we have hard-working farmers and we want to support the farmers and we want people to buy locally.”
Homer Marshall, executive director of the Sampson Community Development Corporation, spearheaded an effort three years ago to utilize the City Market by having a Farmers Cooperative sell locally-grown produce during the annual harvest season. While the market has had a presence downtown in recent years, the results were not as successful as hoped, Marshall conceded.
A local volunteer committee was formed in January toward organizing a concerted effort to better market the farmers’ regular presence downtown — as well as add to it — in order to boost the success of the 2013 market season. This year, the effort has been broadened to include not just fresh and organically-grown produce, but crafts and homegrown treats, such as baked goods, honey, eggs, assorted jam and plants.
On Wednesday, there was every bit of that, as well as handmade clothes, accessories, soap and other wares as approximately 15 vendors were on hand. Whetten said there are about double that amount of vendors who will be selling at the market at various times throughout the season.
“We’ll have more on Saturday and into June there will be more,” Whetten said. “There are 29 total (vendors) coming throughout the season. They may not ever all be here at once, but that is how many we have.”
And applications are still coming in. Space is filling up at the market but if there is interest shown, Whetten said, space will be found.
“This is the rebirth of the Sampson Farmers Market. New and good things are happening,” Councilwoman Jean Turlington said. “Three years ago, Mr. Homer Marshall had an idea of a place in Clinton for farmers to bring their items in to sell. His idea was to bring the best of the county into the heart of the city. He acted upon that idea, and this is what we have here today.”
Turlington credited the interest of citizens and the community in growing the market for this year. Likewise, it would be up to everyone to see it through.
“There’s an excitement in the air today because of what is happening here, and will continue to happen through the summer,” said Turlington. “What we need to do it support and support it and support it. That’s what is going to make it go.”
“Going into it we didn’t know what to expect, but we’re really pleased,” said committee member Janna Bass, executive director for the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce. “We have a lot of vendors that don’t have product yet, because it’s not their season, so we’re looking forward to going throughout the season.”
She said she was excited about the partnerships formed between the Sampson Regional Medical Center, which had a representative talking about wellness at the market, while a yoga class was conducted just outside the market shelter. Whetten said the Sampson Arts Council was expected to be offering children’s activities on Saturday.
“It’s a true community effort,” said Bass. “We’re excited.”
Many said they were glad vendors and residents braved overcast conditions, and some light rain and windy weather, to come out for the market’s opening. Marshall said he was excited about the attendance and the possibilities for the future, but stayed cautiously optimistic.
“I feel really good about today, and the weather has not been great,” said Marshall. “The honest truth is it’s too early to draw any kind of conclusion. I want to see how many people come back Saturday and then how many people come back next Wednesday.”
Not only were people coming out, itself a good sign on a dreary Wednesday morning, but those who visited the market were leaving with hands full. Julie Stefanovich was one of them.
“The past few years when we came out, there has not been anyone out here,” said Stefanovich. “This is exciting to see so many people here. Having a viable venue where this can be available locally and not have to travel will help us jump ahead to being the progressive Clinton we all want to see. The proof will be if the people continue to come out.”
Between handcrafted and homemade goods and locally-grown produce, Stefanovich said supporting the local community at an affordable price was a no-brainer.
“You just can’t beat it,” she said. “I think it’s just good for everybody.”
Abby Beltran of Beltran Family Farm of Faison, like many farmers at the market Wednesday, was offering a plethora of goods. She had everything from blackberries and blueberries to figs, tomatoes and peppers, as well as lettuce, duck and hen eggs and perennials.
“Other counties have done it. There’s no reason for us not to be able to do it,” Beltran said of the farmers market. “For the beginning, this is great. I hope it continues. I’m delighted. Now you have interested producers. I was out here before and I just couldn’t join them. There was nothing here.”
While there were a few select producers dedicated to coming out to the market in years past, they could only do so for so long before frustration set in, with the market not heavily trafficked, only a handful of growers displaying their wares and product most assuredly being discarded after sitting all day.
Bolstered by some new growing techniques and local and state partnerships, Marshall and others have ushered in a more improved Sampson County Farmers Market.
“I’m not a quitter. You just might have to back off, regroup and re-attack,” said Marshall. “If what you’re doing today doesn’t work then you have to try and figure out what you did wrong.”
On Wednesday, it was not just about edible goods. There were handcrafted items, including clothes and accessories.
Sally Cannady was showing off handmade dresses that she made with her daughter, Wendy McQueen from a small business they call “Mom and Me.” Cannady, a Clinton resident since 2006, said she had sold items at Clinton’s street fair in October for the past two years and was not aware there was even a farmers’ market until she was called about participating.
“I was asked if I wanted to do the farmers’ market,” she said. “I was surprised, because I didn’t know there was a farmers’ market in Clinton.”
She had been to the one in Dunn, selling hand-stitched pillowcase dresses, as well as crocheted dish cloths and potholder towels. Having already sold a couple of items just a half hour after Wednesday’s opening, she said she expects to continue to utilize the Sampson Farmers Market.
“If they have it, I’ll come,” said Cannady. “I like seeing new people and old friends, plus it keep my husband (Joe) busy.”
Nearby, Guadalupe Sanchez and her sister-in-law Lizbeth Sanchez were displaying a colorful array of hair bows, hair bow holders, key chains, headbands and baby bows.
Lizbeth operates a business called Lily’s Bows and Guadalupe was selling the work of her daughters, Keren, 18, and Miriam, 16, students at the Early College, as part of their local business, Mo and Mi Hair Accessories.
“We’re here to have a good time and maybe make a few bucks,” said Guadalupe.
Roger Lane of Lane’s Asparagus shared the same sentiment about the market. He said he appreciated the designated hours, which would allow him to come out and show off a small portion of his goods while not being away from the farm for too long.
Lane had strawberries, tomatoes and asparagus for sale, with the latter being his main product. Asparagus is grown during the winter, so Lane said he will likely be at the market through May, leaving around the time others are starting to harvest their product.
He conceded selling at the market was not a big money-maker for his business, but it was important to support a local venture such as the market to stand together as a community. “You’ve got to help the home county out,” said Lane.
Organizers said that community feeling set the tone for the market’s rebirth, and would be key to its future success.
“In the past, it’s been kind of slow with the participation, but as you see, things have changed and we’re really happy about rejuvenating it. We’re so ecstatic,” said Mirelez-Monk. “It’s still a work in progress and we’re going to keep going.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.