DURHAM Cleopatra didn’t have facial hair, that we know of.
But George O’Neal wasn’t going for historical accuracy – or any fashion awards – as a bicep-braceleted servant pulled him down the aisle of the Durham Farmers Market in a sheepskin-draped cart Saturday morning.
The Timberlake farmer with trademark muttonchops was decked out as the Egyptian ruler as part of the market’s first annual Halloween costume contest. Market shoppers dropped $1 tickets into jars at the vendors whose costumes they liked the most.
It wasn’t about winning so much as the cause: raising money for the market’s new Double Bucks program that matches public assistance clients’ EBT/SNAP benefit card spending. People who spend up to $10 at the downtown market on Foster Street or at the South Durham market on N.C. 55 get up to another $10 to spend on locally grown produce and other items.
“It’s a great thing for our farmers,” said Emily-Kate Hampel, assistant market manager. “It’s more money in their pockets. It’s a win-win.”
The market, which operates Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings, began accepting EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards in April and started the Double Bucks program in July, manager Erin Kauffman said. It usually gets 10 to 15 EBT transactions per market, she said.
A Kickstarter online campaign to raise $10,000 for the Double Bucks program will begin Nov. 15.
But the sell was low-key Saturday as customers bought fall greens, flowers and baked goods from vendors dressed as harlequin bugs, Navajo churro sheep and even Optimus Prime of the Transformers.
“I’m a tree,” cut-flower grower Renee Clayton said, and dipped down to reveal a real bird’s nest in her headdress of twisted grapevine and flame bush.
Clayton arranged zinnias, dahlias and mixed bouquets as husband Matt rang up purchases from their Wild Scallions farm in Timberlake in Person County. Daughter Eliza Mae, 7, in a crow’s costume with a giant orange beak greeted customers with loud cries of “caw-caw!”
“She made it all herself,” Clayton said. “She cut the cardboard. She made the design.”
The market’s 71 vendors come from within 70 miles of the market. O’Neal, the board president, grows produce on about four acres along the Flat River in Timberlake.
As he sold fresh ginger root and turmeric, he said this fall has challenged the market, with downtown construction closing nearby streets. Across Foster Street, a single brick wall is all that’s left of Liberty Warehouse, the site of the city’s last tobacco auction house now being converted to apartments and shops.
So if the costumes helped drum up a little business, all the better, he said, showing off his tunic, beaded bikini top and shiny pink lame scarf.
“It takes a real man to wear that,” a customer quipped.
“Or a cross dresser,” O’Neal said and laughed.