The market, which is starting its seventh season, includes only local vendors - from Carroll County or adjacent counties - so the food is picked generally the day before or even the day it is sold, according to farmer Wendy Crager.
“The methods that we’re using in growing and harvesting are conducive to flavor,” she said. “They were grown to harvest fresh. They weren’t grown to have a shelf life where you could harvest it two weeks earlier and still have a ... product in the grocery store.”
Crager has been involved in the market since its inception, beginning with a diverse group of business owners, bankers, farmers and government officials who wanted to preserve farmland in the community and formed the Carroll County Farmland and Rural Preservation Partnership in 2001. The group decided creating the farmers’ market would help keep farming in the community by giving small farmers an outlet for their goods as well as bringing consumers face-to-face with the people who produce their food.
“For the farmer, it allows them to get 100 percent of the sale,” she said. “There’s no distributor. There are no middlemen. There are no retailers. There’s no packaging and marketing costs.”
For consumers it means getting the freshest possible produce. In addition, it’s grown locally, so it keeps the money in the community and saves the fossil fuels that would have been used shipping it in from a megafarm in another state or country, said Janet Holbrook, the manager of the farmers’ market.
“I believe in buying local,” said Holbrook, who sells goat’s milk soap and summer fruits and vegetables at the market. “I think it’s healthier for you.”
She expects a variety of products at the market Saturday with 14 to 15 vendors scheduled to attend.
Holbrook has been involved in the market since it began, formerly as treasurer and this year as manager. She has been selling her products at the market for four years. She keeps goats at her farm and milks them. She uses the milk for yogurt and cheese for her family and then uses what’s left to make homemade soap to sell and was happily surprised at the enthusiastic response from the community.
“I had too much milk,” Holbrook said. “I just started making soap one day and thought I could sell it at the farmers’ market, and I took a little tub of it, a little galvanized tub, with three or four different kinds in it and boom “ it was gone.”
Crager credits the market’s strict adherence to its mission to support local agriculture as part of the reason it is successful. While some markets have allowed in brokers who buy their products in bulk from other farmers, the Cotton Mill Farmers’ Market does not.
“If someone comes in and sells apples from Washington state or Idaho potatoes or whatever, that doesn’t support local agriculture,” Crager said. “Also, many times, because the price is so low, because they’re buying it by the case, they can undercut our prices.”
Requiring the produce be locally grown maintains the mission and it lets the customers be sure they are supporting local farmers, she said.
And in a time when imported dog food and mass-produced salads had been recalled for safety concerns, it also can give the consumer an extra level of confidence to know the farmer who produced the food, Crager said.
“We welcome people that want to see our farm in action,” she said. “If you’re saying I don’t grow my crops with any synthetic chemicals, hey, come on out. Check me out. I can prove it.”
The Cotton Mill Farmers’ Market will be open Saturday 8 a.m. to noon in the city parking lot on Bradley Street. For more information, check the Web site at www.cottonmillfarmersmarket.org.