As the temperatures begin to fall, don’t expect the Chapel Hill or Carrboro farmers markets to close.
Unlike many local markets, both the Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market and the Carrboro Farmers’ Market stay open year-round to allow small, family-owned farms to make income throughout the winter months. Despite serious drops in attendance after November, vendors and loyal customers come out every Saturday morning to buy and sell local produce.
Carrboro Farmers’ Market manager Molly Vaughan said that in the summer months, as many as 5,000 people will come through the market in one day. But in the winter, that number can drop as low as 800.
“Not as many people come out all year long because, in the summertime, it’s a fun family activity — and while that’s wonderful, it would be great if people could get on board with shopping locally year round,” Vaughan said.
Vaughan said farmers work hard to extend the season, something that is possible because of North Carolina’s climate, and make a good market for their year-round customers. Winter markets are not only good for vendors who rely on the markets for income but also consumers of local produce, Vaughan said.
In trying to motivate more people to shop at the markets, both the Chapel Hill and the Carrboro farmers markets are accepting food stamps and Electronic Benefit Transfers.
“We really want people to know that this food is available for everyone," Kate Underhill, manager of the Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market, said. "It’s not exclusive for just wealthy people to shop at the market."
Despite the misconception that shopping locally is more expensive, Underhill said that market prices are similar to those of grocery stores, and the food stays fresh for much longer.
“You can buy something at the Saturday market that was harvested Friday afternoon," Jonathan Ray, owner of Cates Corner Farm and vendor at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, said. "It doesn’t get much fresher than that."
Both markets only have local vendors and artisans. Guidelines for the Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market dictate that farms must be within 60 miles of the market to have a booth. The Carrboro market has a similar radius of 50 miles for vendors.
The year-round market is the main source of income for most of the vendors, and they rely on loyal customers to make their living, Ray said.
Ray also said that the market’s dedication to the vendors is what keeps them going, noting how they even stayed open during the recent hurricanes in order to give vendors a chance to sell their produce.
“Rain or shine, we’re going to have a market,” Ray said.
Both Vaughan and Underhill said the community is the most important aspect of the farmers' markets. Ray said by providing local music, entertainment for children and special programs for elderly people in the markets, Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market and Carrboro Farmers’ Market show their dedication to bringing local farmers and community members together.
“People come out, they get a cup of coffee, they listen to the music and they hang out," Underhill said. "They can meet their neighbors and the farmers — the people producing their food — and what they’re really doing is forming a community there."
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