Chapel Hill News

Wanted: New home for Chapel Hill Farmers' Market

The farmers market at University Mall is looking to put down roots in a permanent home.

Rickie White, a member of the market’s board, asked the Chapel Hill Town Council last week to work with the market to find a new location. Mall officials support the market but have suggested asking the town for ideas, he said.

“(The mall is) a business. They are able to give us some small level of commitment,” he said.

The market’s vendors have more than doubled to roughly three dozen since the nonprofit group Farmers of Orange launched it in 2008, he said. White is also a vendor and the co-owner of Waterdog Farms in Hurdle Mills. The market accepts vendors who live within 60 miles of Chapel Hill.

White said the market’s growth shows southern Chapel Hill can support a permanent market.

The mall is negotiating a new lease with the market now, University Mall general manager Peter de Leon said. The partnership has been “fantastic” for the mall and its restaurants, some of which buy their produce from the farmers, he said.

“University Mall would like to continue the partnership in our parking lot into the future,” de Leon said. “However, the Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market long-term goal is to find a permanent location with dedicated structures for their members. This infrastructure is difficult to commit to as we continue to redevelop the property.”

The mall has opened new stores, and de Leon said work should start within weeks on the new 13-screen Silverspot Cinema and Plaza Azteca restaurant. Farmers market manager Ali Rudel said they’re also waiting to see how those changes could affect available space in the parking lot.

The market moved March 29 to its third location at the mall – a tree-shaded corner beside Wells Fargo. That may be the best location yet, vendors said.

Traffic moves at a slower pace on Estes Drive than it does on Fordham Boulevard, which means more people see the market, farmer Jill Mickens said.

“People are more likely to stop,” she said. “And it’s cozier here.”

Rudel said the right spot for a permanent market should be visible from the road and have ample parking.

But “we would be happy to be anywhere people want us,” Rudel said.

The council asked town staff to look into the issue and will talk about it at a future meeting. White said the farmers’ market board also is mining one member’s connection with UNC for potential solutions.

The Chapel Hill Farmers Market is among several Triangle area markets that operate on private property. Others include the Hillsborough Farmers Market, Southern Village Farmers Market and South Durham Farmers’ Market.