Past Times

Past Times: New, modern farmers market replaced Raleigh relic

The modern housewife of 1956 had high expectations for her produce.
The modern housewife of 1956 had high expectations for her produce. N&O photo

Postwar Raleigh was moving into the modern age. One example was the new farmers market that opened north of town and its new manager, future state Agriculture Secretary Jim Graham. In 1956, writer George Raynor took a look at the market’s first year.

The Raleigh Farmers Market (is) the very model of a modern produce terminal.…

It is serving wholesalers, retailers, and buyers, hucksters and peddlers, the farmer with two acres in watermelons and the farmer with 20 acres in snap beans as well as that canny veteran of the produce market, the pinhooker who keeps his office under his hat and his wits sharp.

For many years, Raleigh has been the leading produce distribution center in the State. But the City Market, the decrepit, if honored, forbear of the Farmers Market, had seen its day as long as six years ago.

The postwar traffic that jammed up around the old market limited usefulness and capacity to handle the volume of fruit and vegetables that cried for space.

Federal and State agricultural experts launched a study of the Raleigh market in 1948 and the conclusions were published in 1950. The experts had some kind words to say for the past usefulness of the City Market and some harsh words about it current operation and its potential. The market, they said, was a losing proposition to the city; it was rundown and unattractive; it served only a fairly small percentage of the city’s residents, and the prices were little, if any, below those of the chain stores.

The report recommended that it be abandoned, and a new market built.…

The new market was laid out on a 65-acre site north of Raleigh on Highway 1….

The developers looked to the future. Only half the available ground space is occupied now; if the other half is needed and developed the Raleigh Farmers Market will be one of the biggest between Washington, D. C., and Columbia, S. C. ...

The building housing the 14 wholesalers is L-shaped and has 36 units. Each unit is 22 ½ feet wide, 100 feet deep and equipped with refrigeration rooms. Most of the units have rail facilities at the rear and all have truck-bed height platforms at the front protected by canopies.

Located near the market is the big Colonial Stores warehouse which serves 92 stores in the area. Going up is a large A&P warehouse.…

The trucking shed is the center of most of the trading this time of the year. It’s here that the individual farmers – or maybe even a speculator who has picked up a load cheap at an auction market – comes to trade with the merchant, the jobber, the restaurant owner and with each other. Most of the trading is done at night, and it goes on all night long. Sometimes the competition gets cutthroat and down go the prices; sometimes there’s a scarcity and up they go. It’s a lucky and wise man who can deliver his truck to the market when his fellow farmers are “fresh out.”

It’s here that the pinhooker or speculator operates best. With orders in his pocket, he warily watches the trends, knowing that he may find a farmer, tired of the all night wait, willing to sell all at a lower price so that he can go home.…

The third phase of the Farmers Center is the retail shed. Booths, located in an enclosed shed, are leased to farmers or hucksters on a monthly basis.

Jim Graham, the manager of the market, admits that this has been the weakest operation in the market so far. “But it’s picking up, “ he said. “We started operating only one day a week; now it’s open every day.”

But the retail shed is still not half as busy as the retail shed operating at the old City Market. Graham, who is a shrewd promoter as well as being wise in the ways of things agricultural, recently installed a “leader” to attract more business to the shed. He had an ingenious pea and lima bean shelling machine installed. By buying these vegetables at the market, the housewife can save long, long hours by having them shelled there free.…

A terminal market such as this one where buyers may be found around the clock is one of the answers to the disposal of truck crops.

Given sufficient produce – and it’s not there yet – large buyers from the chains and commission houses will be in constant attendance. This will insure the farmer a sale for his top quality produce at top wholesale prices. Right now many smaller buyers attend the market but it takes larger quantity of better produce than the Raleigh market now has to attract the big boys.

Then this question of quality always comes to the fore.

The simple truth of the matter seems to be that too large a percentage of the truck growers simply do not raise quality crops. And if they do not grade and pack them as they must for ready sales.

The wholesalers whose buildings line the market often buy corn or beans or cukes or squash from other markets when these are available only a few yards from the loading platforms.…

These are not simple days; the housewife wants her cucumbers waxed. She doesn’t buy potatoes in 165-pound barrels anymore; she likes five and ten-pound bags of washed – and sometimes even artificially colored – potatoes.

Despite the belief of many of the farmers, she also likes sweet corn kept cooled so that it retains its freshness, not horse corn brought hot and wilting to the market in a burlap sack. The N&O Aug. 26, 1956

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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