Farmers markets are offering residents just that by providing fresh, local produce, dairy products and more.
“Look what’s in the paper today on the salmonella in turkey,” said Eddie Holtz, a board member of the Bowdon Farmers Market. “Here are people who are buying from grocery stores. But those grocery stores have no idea where their food comes from — or minimal idea — so when you get sick, they throw up their hands. Whereas, when you buy butter from one of our local folks you see the lady that made it and if you got a problem, you call her on the phone.”
Holtz, the owner of Bowdon Coffee Roasters, said that anything that’s grown locally is going to have a better flavor.
“You need to come down,” he said. “I’ll make you a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with some of the tomatoes we grew out back in our composted coffee ground garden and they’re just scrumptious — homemade tomatoes on a BLT, there ain’t nothing like it.”
Since the Bowdon Merchants Association and the Sprig and Dig Club announced that a new farmers market was coming to Bowdon July 12, business has been good, according to Holz. The market is held every Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Heritage Park. The project has received funding from the Rolling Hills Resource Conservation and Development Council.
The market is modeled on the successful efforts of other local farmers markets in hopes of strengthening local farms and providing the community with an opportunity to “eat with the seasons.”
“I’ve talked to several vendors and those that are accustomed to the good work at Cotton Mill [Farmer’s Market], they understand it’s not going to be Cotton Mill,” Holtz said. “But we’re modeled on the basics of what Cotton Mill does.”
Cotton Mill Farmer’s Market is an established operation in Carrollton that draws numerous vendors and customers each Saturday.
With the establishment of the farmers markets this summer in Bowdon, Whitesburg and Roopville, local growers additional markets at which to sell their products.
“If they have something they want to try get to the market on another day, then they can say, ‘We didn’t have such and such at this time, but we’re going to have it in Bowdon on Tuesday so you can get it down there,’” Holtz said. “A local farmer can, any day of the week, market their products within 20 miles of their home.”
Farmers who work in Carroll, Haralson, Heard or Cleburne County, Ala., are invited to participate.
“We’re trying to be an avenue for local farmers and I have heard from two of the businesses in town who report that on Tuesday afternoons with the market in operation, they have seen an increase in their walk-through traffic and that’s what we were looking for,” Holtz said. “[We were] looking for Bowdon to be a little bit of a destination.”
His business uses produce from the market.
“I have the coffee shop here in town and we bought tomatoes and cucumbers from there,” Holtz said. “We use lettuce from a local producer when lettuce is in season here locally. We’re trying to encourage our local farming community.”
A grand opening for the market is planned for Aug. 23 during the market’s regular business hours.
“Our focus is on our local producers and try to help the folks that do sustainable agriculture,” Holtz said. “Just from what I know about our folks from this area, they are minimalists. They’re trying to grow food with as minimal an impact on the ecosystem of our community.”
Farmers aren’t the only vendors to be found at the market.
“We’ve got a lady who makes handmade dresses and children’s clothing and it’s just another market for her to get people to see what all she does,” Holtz said.
Kimberly Grace Putnam, who designs and sews children’s clothing, has been a vendor at the Bowdon market twice and explained why it is important for her to shop locally.
“When I was in high school, I frequented a particular coffee shop, Higher Groundz,” Putnam said. “It was amazing — great coffee, pastries, music, local art for sale. It was a great spot owned by two local people. LaGrange began to grow and attracted the attention of Starbucks, who opened a shop across the street. Higher Groundz was closed within six months. It broke my heart that a huge corporation could come in and shut down such an amazing business. Higher Groundz was a much better coffee shop, but Starbucks has a ‘name.’”
After high school, she enrolled in culinary school and committed to working for local independent restaurants. But many closed after the openings of chain restaurants.
“After my most recent restaurant closed, I decided to turn my passion for sewing into a local business of my own,” Putnam said. “I only shop at local stores, local restaurants, and buy whatever I can locally. Right now my household uses locally made soap, laundry soap, clothes and most of our food products.”
She encourages everyone to shop local.
“It’s not only because I am now a local business owner, but because I believe in the sense of community,” Putnam said. “When I go to buy my veggies, I can ask questions, pick up new recipes, and meet people who live near me. I can even ask my soap guy to scent my soap the way I like it.”
The Roopville Farmers Market, which is open Fridays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., started about a month ago. The market his held in the area between sheriff’s satellite station and Roopville Archives building. There is no charge for vendors to set up.
While the market has drawn a nice crowd, organizers have had a problem getting enough produce in.
“Of course, this time of year, a lot of people’s gardens are just going away — some are coming back in, but we’ve just had a difficult time getting enough people,” said Barry Huff, president of the Roopville Archives & Historical Society, which is sponsoring the market.
Despite the struggles the market has gotten a good response.
“This weekend we’ll have more produce,” Huff said. “Last week, a lady and [her] husband brought some real good looking canned vegetables.”
Like many other markets, the goal of Roopville’s market to promote local farmers and help people who want to share produce from their home garden like the woman from Clem who brought canned vegetables.
“She had finished everything she wanted to can in her garden and she said that she wanted to take it and bring it to the farmers market,” Huff said. “I told her she certainly would be welcome and we appreciate it. Most of the people have already canned everything they want. [This] just gives them the opportunity to bring it and sell it at a reduced price and help the people in the community.”
He said it’s more convenient for people in his area to go to the Roopville market than travel to Carrollton, and touted the benefits of buying local.
“People like to buy things growing out of your garden [and] knowing where it comes from,” Huff said. “I think next year we’ll really have a nice farmers market because more people know about [it] and know what we’re doing. I’ve had several people say, ‘Well, you know, next year I’m going to plant a little bit more okra, plant more peas.’”
Organizers hope to continue running the market through early fall.
“We will as long as we can have something to sell and the public would want,” Huff said. “We have a limited amount to sell, but we’re keeping it open. It’s really just a community effort, and we’re doing it to improve our community and way of life here.”
The Whitesburg Farmers Market has been going on since the first part of July and is held at the city’s recreation center. The market is usually held under the pavilion and starts at 8 a.m. every Saturday. There are no set-up fees.
“The customers seem to be real pleased,” said Patricia Whatley, a member of the Whitesburg Senior Citizens/TRIAD, which helped organize the market.
Judy Skipper was instrumental in getting it started.
“She got petitions out to find if there was interest in the community and that sort of thing, then she went from there,” Whatley said.
Skipper worked with city Councilwoman Lucy Gamble who oversees streets, parks and recreation.
“You’re buying locally grown fruits and vegetables and they are at a reasonable price,” Whatley said. “They’re sold locally [so] you don’t have to go 10 miles to find them. You can go right there in town and find locally grown vegetables that are wonderful and, of course, there’s always that opportunity for the camaraderie with your neighbors.”