Market maps out the roof over its head

Pavilion to rise by April opening

Staff WriterNovember 20, 2005 

Barbara Crook arranges flowers at her Durham Farmers' Market booth.

STAFF PHOTO BY COREY LOWENSTEIN

For now, the new Durham Farmers' Market is just a chalk outline and 22 bamboo poles with tie-dyed silk scarves on top.

Organizers planted the poles during a virtual "barn-raising" Saturday morning at Durham Central Park on the last day of the market's seventh season. They mark where a 10,000-square-foot pavilion will be ready when the farmers return in April.

Hundreds of regular customers turned out to celebrate the end of a three-year fund-raising effort that brought in $350,000 from federal, local and private sources.

They also stopped to buy collard greens, cut flowers and fresh cheese, all produced within 70 miles of the city.

The new building should make that shopping experience a lot nicer. The roof will help keep out rain, and the floor will be flat concrete instead of the sloped parking lot where the market was this year.

If they can raise the money, organizers plan to add indoor bathrooms and a demonstration kitchen, along with a specially designed roof that would capture rainwater for a nearby vegetable garden. "We had even grander ideas, but this is fine," said Allen Wilcox, president of the nonprofit that manages the park.

Just having a building will be an improvement for many farmers and their customers.

Helga Sonner, a software engineer in Durham, said she was not sure she had the right place when she first came to the Farmers' Market a few years ago.

"If I hadn't seen the sign, I'm not sure I would have come in," said Sonner, 40, while picking out cut flowers from Esther's Dreamland.

Longtime vendors say the current location -- a parking lot on Morris Street -- was an improvement over the first few years, when the market was held in the parking lot of the old Durham Athletic Park.

"I remember one really cold, cloudy day when we had four vendors and about 14 customers," said Rexann Ballard, a farmer who is president of the market board. "I counted each one of them."

Now, the market has around 35 vendors on any given Saturday. When it opens in April, the new building will have stalls for 40 vendors inside, with more room outside.

And just as now, the Farmers' Market will be a gathering place in Durham.

Elizabeth Goacher comes every week with her son and her partner both to buy produce and catch up with friends from their old neighborhood in West Durham that she wouldn't otherwise see.

"It's a central place," Goacher said.

Staff writer Ryan Teague Beckwith can be reached at 836-4944 or rbeckwit@newsobserver.com.

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