July 2008

Farmer's Market: Get Fresh! (No one will slap you.)

Author: Paul deVere | Photographer: John Brackett

“Look at all of them coming! Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?” Ed McCullough said as hundreds of people poured into the opening day of the Bluffton Farmers Market. Hundreds. And hundreds more. McCullough, host of WHHI’s “Talk of the Town,” and fellow Rotarian, Diane Fornari, started some serious discussions about fresh food and farmers markets a year ago.

McCullough, a vegetarian for 34 years, and Fornari (“I’m Italian. Food is my language.”), had just heard a presentation by a representative of Edible Lowcountry magazine at the Van Landingham Rotary Club. The rep talked about farmers markets, how the movement was sweeping the county. How more and more people were buying locally grown produce and supporting local growers.

“Ed and I asked, ‘Where’s ours?” Fornari said laughing. What began as talk between friends has turned into a hit for local growers, vendors, and, of course, the customers who are getting fresh, “homegrown” produce, and quite a bit of it with the USDA “Organic” label proudly displayed on the grower’s booth.

While there have been farmers markets on Hilton Head and in Bluffton for years, the number of growers dwindled and there was little or no promotion.

In case you’ve missed it, “buying local” has caught on nationally like wildfire. Restaurants are now using “locally grown” as a marketing tool. And chefs know locally grown food does taste better. Chris Blobaum, executive chef at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff has become a regular customer at the Bluffton Farmers Market.

“Chris came to me and said, ‘I want to be a part of it,’” Fornari said.

Everybody knows that fresh grown tastes better than “store bought,” right? Well, that brings up the old saw about rising food costs and farmers explaining the reasons: weather, demand, fuel. So the little old lady in the supermarket (it could also be a little old/middle aged/young man) says, “What do we need farmers for? We’ve got Publix!” Fresh is not only more tasteful, it’s usually more nutritious. It is also very “green.”

“A loaf of bread in the supermarket can travel 1,600 miles to get there,” McCullough said. “The farthest our growers travel is 75 miles.”

The huge difference between farmers markets of the recent past and today’s exhibitions is that they actually are beginning to resemble market days in earlier times, going back as far as the Middle Ages. Market day was filled with entertainment and festivities. While there are no jugglers or clowns at the Bluffton Farmers Market (yet), there are food vendors, like Bluffton Oyster Company (located a few yards away from the market’s location) and Tom Bastek’s popular Hilton Head Popcorn. At a recent market, Bastek said (actually yelled over the crowd), “I’ve done (more business) here so far in three hours than one grocery store would do for me in a week. I think it’s the best thing in the whole wide world.”

There is also live entertainment—everything from country to reggae to barbershop quartets. Every Thursday seems like a festival, plus plenty to eat right there in the county park at the entrance to the Bluffton Oyster Company. There are bakery goods, pretzels and Italian ice.

Lisa Carroll, who has had public relations firm in Bluffton for 22 years, is a member of the Bluffton Rotary (which graciously has sponsored the market) and is an advisor. On Thursday, she is one of the “lettuce help you” people, making sure everyone is exposed to this extraordinary coming together of such diverse groups.

She recalled a recent event that highlighted both the singularity of the Bluffton Farmers Market in this area and the innocence of the new customers.

“There were these little boys holding a zucchini. They were eating it like it was corn on the cob and we were laughing. Their mother turned around and said, ‘Oh no, don’t eat that; I don’t know if you can eat that raw.’ She was obviously new to eating fresh zucchini. Kids eating zucchini like it was candy. That’s the way to go,” Carroll said.

Eighty-year-old Albert Atkins, a grower from St. Helena, one of the 14 growers that show up at the Bluffton Farmers Market is a symbol of what all of us may have forgotten. Like the lady in Publix. Farming is part of the cycle of life. You can choose a frozen version or hop on the farmers market bandwagon and choose the real thing. The real thing is the Bluffton Farmers Market. But they never have enough arugula, though I understand they are working on that.

To learn more about the market, visit www.blufftonfarmersmarket.com. And mention the arugula. They were sold out. You might also want to bring up the green onions from Three Sisters Farm. They were fantastic, but they were sold out too!

Farmers market. Bluffton. It fits. All you have to do is show up.

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