Peregrine Farm owner Alex Hitt began the process of packing up his truck at the Carrboro Farmers' Market as the last few customers of the day strolled through the rows of produce stands. He smiled as he saw a familiar face in the crowd.
“Did you get my email about the blueberries?” Chapel Hill resident Debbie Mullins asked as she walked up to the stand.
Hitt nodded, pulling out a cardboard crate with several cartons of blueberries that had been hidden away.
“You got the last ones of the whole year,” he told his long-time customer.
Mullins, who has been going to the market almost every Saturday since she moved to the area six years ago, said she was introduced to Hitt by her niece and has been shopping at his stand ever since.
“It’s the next best thing to having your own garden,” she said.
The Carrboro Farmers’ Market celebrated its 40th birthday on Saturday, June 1, with cake, trivia and prizes.
The market, which held its opening day on June 2, 1979, is held at Carrboro Town Commons on Saturday mornings year-round and offers a diverse selection of produce, meat, baked goods, flowers and pottery. The market also opens on Wednesday evenings from April through October.
While the Carrboro Farmers Market is now nationally recognized and used as a model for other markets, it started as a series of small, informal markets in the Chapel Hill area without a permanent home.
That changed when a UNC School of Public Health graduate student started a project to give local farmers a regular outlet to sell their products.
Carrboro sought funding from the North Carolina General Assembly to build a shelter for the market and the market formed an organizational structure. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Farmers’ Market began operating on Carr Mill Mall-owned land on Roberson Street.
After the lease ended at the market’s location on Roberson Street, the Town received a grant to build new structures at the Carrboro Town Commons.
The Carrboro Farmers’ Market opened at its current home in 1996.
Some things have changed for the market. It has grown from 20 vendors to over 75 and is now organized by a full-time market manager.
Market Manager Molly Vaughan said newer markets come to the Carrboro Farmers’ Market to learn about how her position was implemented.
The types of crops sold have also changed, Hitt said.
“When we first started it was mostly Southerners,” Hitt said. “As we used to say, it was all ‘mators, ‘tators and beans. As more Midwesterners and New Englanders moved down, it has changed the crop mix.”
Still, the things that make the Carrboro Farmers’ Market so special have not changed.
The market is entirely farmer-run, with vendors deciding on market membership and rules through the Carrboro Farmers’ Market Board.
In order to be a market member, vendors must be located within 50 miles of the market. Farm owners and artisans must also be present to sell their products at the market.
“It puts everyone on the same playing field,” Hitt said.
More than anything else, the relationships between the customers and vendors haven't changed.
Many long-time vendors have watched their customers grow up and have children of their own. Hitt said he has met four generations of one family through their trips to the market.
Mary Ann Pagano of Three Waters Farm, which has been a vendor at the market for 28 years, said part of the reason she has stayed a member of the market is because of the community it has built.
“This is the heart of the community,” Pagano said. “When you shop here you’re supporting people in more ways than you can understand.”
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