It’s 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning in downtown Raleigh and, like clockwork, the Farmer on the Mall is open for business.
Both the farmer — Roger Ball — and his produce stand have become something of a fixture in downtown Raleigh over the years since Ball began selling fresh fruits and vegetables outside the General Assembly.
While many know him by his Farmer on the Mall title, Ball’s connection to agriculture stretches back to his childhood. Sitting inside his regular produce stand at 5204 Rock Service Station Road in Raleigh, Ball described his upbringing on the farm.
“Well, I grew up right here, tobacco farming. We always had produce, and my mother canned everything she could,” he said. “I worked most of my working years on construction work, and I came back to the farm here when I got to be about 60 years old.”
Soon, Ball was approached about opening up a produce stand downtown. Working with Ronnie Condrey, who then worked at the North Carolina Department of Insurance, Ball was able to get clearance to begin the operation that many know him by today.
Ball sets up at Bicentennial Mall near the Liberty Bell, across from the Legislative Building on Tuesdays, and at Halifax Mall between the Revenue building and the Department of Public Instruction building on Thursdays. Ball himself grows primarily strawberries and okra, but also sells produce he sources from other local farmers.
Doing things this way allows everyone to specialize in a particular crop, Ball said, while still giving consumers a good selection in one place.
“There are lots of little markets that want you to grow every single thing, but that day is in the past. You cannot grow everything and survive,” Ball said. “You have to grow what you grow, and you have to grow it in volume where you can move a lot of it. You’ve got to deal with other farmers, and that’s what I do.”
Visitors to Ball’s stand downtown can expect around 25 different options to choose from, including fresh strawberries, cantaloupe and other fruits as well as squash, onions and much more. Ball said that he hopes to see people, especially young people, embrace cooking at home with fresh ingredients.
“If you go in grocery stores, you see more and more they’ve got meals totally prepared, you just put it in the microwave and eat it. Those meals are normally full of sodium, and that’s not the healthiest way to do it. You really need to be cooking stuff from scratch,” he said.
Ball’s weekly offerings can help with that. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in the downtown locations.