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Healthy Harvest: The Carrboro Farmers' Market

Recipe for Success

The success of the Carrboro Farmers' Market can be attributed to several things. First of all, it has been farmer-run from the very beginning. In the late 1970's, the town of Carrboro decided that a farmers' market would fit nicely into their downtown development plan, and they invited farmers who had been selling their produce informally in Chapel Hill to start selling at a formal market in Carrboro. A UNC graduate student involved in a project called the North Carolina Agricultural Marketing Project had been promoting the idea of a more permanent farmers' market, and helped to make the idea a reality. The town secured funding from the state and built a shelter to house the market on land leased from Carr Mill Mall.

At the same time, says Alex, "the town realized they knew nothing about running a farmers' market." An incorporated non-profit, The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Farmers' Market Inc, was formed to run the market. The group was - and is - comprised solely of local producers. It has a seven-member board of directors elected by and from the membership, which guides the general operation of the market. This ensures that the market's management acts with the farmer's best interests in mind: "farmers make decisions that make sense to farmers," explains Alex.

On a yearly budget of about $40,000, the market employs a Wednesday Manager, a Saturday Manager, and a Special Events Coordinator, all part-time positions. The money in the budget, which comes from vendor fees, also goes towards liability insurance, advertising costs, and improvements to the market itself such as benches and electrical outlets.

"The farmers that founded it...had the vision and the foresight to know, not only how to market the market itself but how to govern it, how to arrange it in the sense that it would have a long-term plan," observes Steve Moize. The hard work and commitment of those early leaders continues today. According to Alex, "the farmers have...stayed true to the bylaws and the mission over the years, and it takes a lot of work. It's a volunteer group, and we have had, of course, lots and lots of different folks on the board and everyone takes it pretty seriously. They realize this is an important part of their livelihood."

Staying true to the mission and bylaws involves adhering to several important rules. To ensure that the market is truly "local", only produce grown within 50 miles may be sold there. Additionally, only the original producer of the goods may sell at market. In other words, the farm owner must be present and may not send an intern or employee in their place. This rule was developed to preserve the integrity of the consumer-producer relationship, says Alex: "...it's the customers that make the market...so we've done everything we can to really connect the farmer with the customer." Other rules include mandatory farm inspections by Farmers' Market representatives and a limit on the number of non-farming vendors like craftspeople and bakers. Farmers currently account for about 65 of the 90-plus vendors.

The Carrboro Community

In comparison with other farmers' markets around the state and even the country, Carrboro's is notable for its long-term success and vitality. "We think Carrboro is one of the finest markets in the country," remarks Alex, who adds that he and Betsy travel a lot and always make it a point to go to farmers' markets. Steve Moize seems to agree: "...in so many ways and for so many reasons [Carrboro] is light years above the rest of them."

In addition to the work that farmers have put into making it a success, credit must also be given to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community, which has supported the market every step of the way. Local farmer Stanley Hughes, who started selling at the market about a year ago, says the level of support he feels from the public makes him wish that he had started selling there earlier. "I think the most appreciative people are right here in the Carrboro-Chapel Hill area…I should have went two years earlier and I was just...hesitant about going. Then, after going, I...look forward to each week now."

The Carrboro Farmers' Market is located at Carrboro Town Commons, next to Town Hall. It is open every Saturday from 7 am until noon, and Wednesdays from 4 to 7 pm. For more information check out the market's website at www.carrborofarmersmarket.com.

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Stewards of the Land is a project made possible through the support of the Educational Media Foundation, Inc., Weaver Street Market, and the Social Entrepreneur Fellowship (a project of the APPLES Service-Learning Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Web hosting graciously provided by ibiblio.org.