With three farmer’s markets populating eastern Wake County in Knightdale, Wendell, Zebulon and a fourth just across the county line in Archer Lodge, officials in the larger town aren’t sure the weekly event is sustainable.
This year, the Wendell market is running on volunteer and town effort since their funding has run dry. Knightdale and Zebulon, on the other hand, have received their first year of a three-year John Rex Endowment grant that will mainly pay for a market manager.
With the N.C. State Farmer’s Market to the west, and two competitive markets to the east, Knightdale leaders say it’s risky to run a market without many produce vendors, despite the fact that they have run for at least two seasons previously.
Town manager Seth Lawless said that the town is evaluating whether or not to host it this year. Event organizers recently snagged a large vendor,Kudzu Acres Farm in Raleigh, that could potentially solidify a market this season. But, Lawless said, they currently are unsure.
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“If we can make it worthwhile, (we will), but we are not ready to make that decision,” he said.
In its place, town leaders are considering using the grant toward an arts festival to encourage the community to celebrate fine arts, encourage the magnet schools and draw visitors to Knightdale Station Park.
One significant element of the new park was the 12,000- square-feet of shelter space built in part to host the market, which cost nearly $600,000. Town leaders say the structures will still be put to much use through food or craft vendors during upcoming events hosted at the park this summer.
Zebulon’s market, which opens for the first time May 2, has managed to hook 19 committed vendors. Zebulon Farm Fresh Market director Maurine Brown doesn’t think that she’s taken anyone away from other markets.
“A lot of them are going to multiple markets,” she said, saying that if vendors have any problems it might be hiring help to run the stands. “Many (markets) are coming in addition to other markets, or they have never done one and are just deciding that this will be their first try,” she said.
One vendor, Joni McPhetridge of Ol’ McPhetridge Farm in Zebulon, said that she hasn’t committed to her town’s market. She’s uncertain about the location in the community center.
“If I see that it’s doing something and bringing in customers, I’ll be interested,” she said. “But as a vendor, I’m not willing to fork out the money on an unproven market.”
She did agree that the towns were concerned about competing with each other for vendors.
In Wendell, despite the lack of funding, coordinator Tracie Hicks believes that not much will change from the past for their farmer’s market in terms of commitment, though an official director and EBT and credit card scanners dropped with the grant. Last year, the number of vendors fluctuated during the season up to 10 vendors.
Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen said important factors for a successful market were substantial numbers of produce vendors, numbers of customers and accessibility.
“In order to provide vendors coming, you’ve got to get people coming,” he said. “They need a reason to come out... and it needs to be in walking or biking distance to make it sustainable. That’s our focus going forward, how do you do it and make it sustainable.”