Extended Markets – Now It Gets Fun!
I remember years ago I had a rare Saturday morning off in late October. My wife got me up and we headed to the market. I was excited because in those days I rarely got to go, and I couldn’t wait to see all the vendors, the shoppers, and the goings-on of the bustling market. It turned out I was pretty disappointed that day. When I got to the market there were only a handful of vendors, and while there were a fair number of customers, the market wasn’t what I expected. If you remember the depot, the market that day didn’t even fill the bricks, let alone go out on the grass like I expected. My wife, who was a market regular for years, explained that the market season was almost over, so vendors were scarce. In my ignorance, I was really shocked. How could a market that was packed in July be empty at the end of October?
Well, what I learned was that farmers will grow to the market. If they know the market is ending in late October or early November, they aren’t growing food year-round. Most will shut down growing and wait until next year. Keep in mind, many of our farmers work “real” jobs and farm “part-time” (neither of which are true if you farm, it’s a real job and almost always full-time).
So when I came on in 2013, and saw how strong our early-fall markets looked, I asked around if anyone wanted to keep the markets going after the second Saturday in November. A few said yes, and we kept a few artisan vendors, and held our first extended season markets on Dunbar Street. They were small markets, but they sure had enthusiastic customers, and the farmers and artisans were happy with the results. Then and there I decided we needed to build markets that went beyond the typical six months that most SC markets run. Last year, we started at the end of March and went until the weekend before Christmas. This year, we followed the same model at Northside Harvest Park, and next year, we will add a market day in January and February.
These markets, like that Saturday years ago, will be smaller than the high-season markets. But you are also going to notice something fantastic happening. We will have more farmers, growing more produce year-round. You are going to find new vendors at the market, regional farmers and artisans looking for a great market experience now that their home market has closed. You will also find more families buying fresh, local produce year-round, instead of having to go back to their big-box grocer. Each year, these off-season markets get a little bigger, as more farmers decide to go year-round.
We’ll also do our part to keep the market vibrant. We continue to recruit new vendors and farmers (we unfortunately lost two new vendors from the Midlands when their farms were wiped out by the flood). We’ll have new musical acts at the market in November, and lots of great things for the kids also. We *might* even have a pop-up Christmas tree sale one or two Saturdays if we can work out the details.
The extended market season is my favorite time of year. It’s when I can see HCFM striving hard to meet our mission. We’re helping farmers grow more, we’re giving families more access to healthy food, and we’re deepening community ties. Your support of these markets helps differentiate Spartanburg and its market. As one farmer from another market told me once: “People in Spartanburg come to market to shop.” Indeed, we’re serious about our local food! Come check out the market between now and Christmas and see what I mean!