Vance County farmers relied on tobacco crops until 2004. The end of the federal tobacco quota program left those farmers wondering how they would support themselves. The Vance County Regional Farmers Market allowed them to hold on to their land and way of life by responding to area residents’ need for fresh, healthy food.
At first, the market was small. Farmers gathered in parking lots and sold produce from truck tailgates. Then grants from the N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund and the Vance County Farm Bureau enabled the county to build a 7,500-square-foot building with climate control and a classroom in 2014.
“We now have a close to $1 million facility, and the county only paid for about $50,000 of it,” said Market Manager Tracy Madigan. “It’s all through grants and donations.”
The market accepts vendors from five surrounding counties, including Virginia’s Mecklenburg County, and hosts about 35 vendors selling fresh produce, honey, baked goods and more. It’s open from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays from April to mid-December.
“Our vendors and staff greet everyone who walks through the door with a smile,” said Paul McKenzie, a N.C. Cooperative Extension agent who was instrumental in helping the market obtain funding. “We’ve got all of the great North Carolina produce you’d expect – blueberries, strawberries, watermelon and sweet corn, to name a few.”
Vance County Regional Farmers Market communicates with its customer base through social media and a weekly email detailing what’s fresh. Most shoppers are drawn by the fruits and vegetables at the market and are delighted to discover the crafts and other items offered.
“Cut flowers such as zinnias and sunflowers are popular, as are soaps, birdhouses and the plants sold by our two nursery vendors,” Madigan said.
During peak season, the market has up to 400 customers per week. Events such as gardening classes, voter registration and giveaways raise the weekly number to around 650 visitors.
But one program that has excited vendors and shoppers alike takes place each week. The market and the Henderson Kiwanis Club partner with Area Christians Together in Service of Henderson to feed the hungry in Vance County. Each Wednesday and Saturday, Kiwanis Club members collect donations from customers. They use the money to buy the day’s leftover produce and transport it to ACTS, which distributes around 250 meals per day. The market’s farmers also donate leftover produce directly to ACTS.
“Our county is one of the poorest in North Carolina,” Madigan said. “Lots of people are struggling and hurting. People shop here and donate every Wednesday and Saturday, and it adds up. It’s one of the ways to give back to the community. I’ve been amazed at the generosity of our farmers and customers.”