A luncheon held Tuesday gave Maurine Brown a chance to meet with community leaders and share information on the upcoming Zebulon Farm Fresh Market.
But Brown, the manager of Zebulon’s first farmers market, needed to say little to get her points across to a crowd at the Zebulon Community Center. The guest speakers that preceded her at the podium were convincing enough to convince audience members of the need and value of the market to the town.
“It’s more than a place to buy delicious, healthy and affordable foods,” said Michele McKinley of Raleigh-based Advocates for Health in Action. “It’s a community gathering place and an economic engine for local farmers.”
McKinley hit on the importance of accepting Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, which the Zebulon market plans to do from its opening, set for May.
She said that offering is critical in Zebulon – an area recently identified as a food desert, where it is difficult for residents to access fresh produce. She said 16 percent of Zebulon’s population is below the poverty line, the highest percentage among Wake County municipalities.
McKinley also shared Wake County obesity figures as part of her argument that the market could have a significant impact in Zebulon, and even save lives.
“It has been difficult to track the impact of a market in a community, but some of that is starting to emerge,” she said.
Lifelong Zebulon resident Chad Ray challenged the crowd to remember the market is being created thanks to a three-year grant from the John Rex Endowment, and to not let the market die off after the grant runs its course.
Ray asked the group to think back to the days when local grocers served as a direct connection between the farmer and the consumer. He said a farmers market can revive bygone connections like those that made communities like Pilot, Bunn and Zebulon thrive years ago.
Building a new sense of community through the market would help address other issues, Ray said.
“Everyone, no matter what background you come from, relates to food,” he said. “It’s unacceptable that 55,000 kids in Wake County don’t eat between Friday at lunch and Monday at breakfast.
“I don’t care whose fault it is. Kids got to eat. That’s our responsibility as a community and a town.”
In her closing remarks, Brown said she has about 12 vendors currently committed to the market.
“It looks like we’re going to have a very successful market, but I’m going to need your help brainstorming in the future on how to let people know to come down and that this is the place to get healthy food,” she told the crowd.
Members of the Steel Magnolias Garden Club won’t likely have a harvest to share at a farmers market but several spoke with Brown about possible crossover opportunities, like holding the club’s plant sale along with the opening of the market.
“Maybe once a month we could have a booth for membership or information about gardening. That would be a terrific thing for us,” said club president Jeannie Bogner. “Our whole thing is to stimulate the love of gardening. If people get empowered to learn how to plant stuff and grow stuff, they can be part of it too.”
Produce-themed table centerpieces and sweet potatoes for casseroles served at the luncheon were fittingly provided by Stone Ridge Farm Market of Zebulon.