Right off the bat I’ll let you know that a new farmers market, called the Durham Roots Farmer’s Market, opens from 8 a.m. to noon at Northgate Mall on April 16th! (Note my blatant conflict-of-interest as president of the new market’s board.)
Vendors are Durham County farmers and producers, selling products grown in Durham’s dirt. The market’s focus is on protein, produce, and plants, and Northgate Mall sits in the middle of a food desert. We won’t have food trucks or arts and crafts, and the only value-added products, such as cheese and jams, must be made by the vendor and the primary ingredient must come from their own Durham County-grown farm or greenhouse.
Ginny Bowman and Brian Wilkerson from Northgate have been wonderful collaborators, and our volunteer market manager, Kaylee Sciacca, is organizing community volunteers, the website, and opening- day details. I hope you’ll come out, buy everything, and make the vendors go home with empty bins by 10 a.m.!
Why do we need a new market? For those of you new to Durham, we already have the Durham Farmers Market at Central Park and the South Durham Farmers Market at the Greenwood Commons Shopping Center. Both markets provide a great experience for consumers with a broad and consistent selection of regionally sourced produce and products, along with food trucks, arts and crafts, and some music.
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We also have the Hub Farm, run by the Durham Public Schools near Eno Valley Elementary. Their farm involves “students in all aspects of local food production and land stewardship to foster healthy living, career exploration, environmental stewardship and community engagement.” The Hub Farm sells its produce through a CSA (community supported agriculture) subscription program (thehubfarm.org).
Vendors at the Durham Farmer’s Market farm within 70 miles of Durham’s city limits, while those at the South Durham Farmer’s Market farm within 50 miles of the market. Durham Roots Farmer’s Market takes local down to Durham County.
Durham County’s Farmland Preservation Board started DRFM to create economic opportunities for Durham County’s farmers and horticultural producers as tobacco farming ended and great changes started happening in North Carolina’s agricultural economy. As the name implies, the farm board’s mission is to preserve Durham’s farms and help our county’s farmers, and the new farmer’s market’s focus on protein, produce, and plants can provide a critical source of revenue, especially for small farms just starting out. We’re also seeing many new farmers in Durham starting out on incubator plots, and though some of them are old hands, others are just learning their craft. The Durham Roots Farmer’s Market can serve as an incubator market for the selling side of their learning experience, build a customer base, and meet experienced farming mentors.
Indeed, we owe a debt to our county’s farmers. A 2010 cost of community services study of Durham County showed that for every $1 of public expenditures spent on agricultural land use areas, $1.70 was collected in property and other taxes. The saying is that cows, horses, chickens and goats don’t go to school and they don’t call 911. In contrast, residential land use collects just 87 cents for every public dollar spent. In other words, our farmers subsidize urban dwellers’ property taxes. Buying products from Durham’s agricultural producers helps pay back that property tax subsidy.
We’re a small market with five to 10 vendors, a number that will change with season and weather, but we have the flexibility to add new vendors as the season progresses. We also welcome community and church gardens, and we’re hoping to coordinate an educational culinary arts booth with Northern High School. Prospective vendors please email me!
You might not find the Durham Roots Farmer’s Market a one-stop grocery shopping experience. We’re not balancing vendors according to their offerings, seniority, or market attendance. Durham’s farms are a small subset of our regional farms, and many simply can’t produce enough to sell consistently nor afford the time to staff a stall every week. Other farmers might supplement their hay production by growing a field of sweet corn that ripens over just a few weeks of the year – our market welcomes that kind of seasonal offering. Come by every week, buy what you find, let the offerings set your menu, and know that you’re helping preserve Durham’s farms for the future.
Finally, the community can get involved helping out the market manager and vendors through a community membership. We’ll need help setting up the stalls, staffing them, and taking them down after the market ends. Just email me for information, visit us at durhamroots.org, or check us out on Facebook.
Will Wilson teaches biology at Duke University. You can reach him at email@example.com