Years before someone uttered “social networking” for the first time, there were farmers markets.
It is social networking in person: farmers and food makers interacting with shoppers and browsers; shoppers and strangers friendly with each other. Most come with the shared goal of getting good, locally grown food to the table (though a number come just to eat breakfast or lunch from the vendors).
It takes more time and trouble than the grocery store to find parking, pick out your own stuff and tote bags, but the popularity of the markets indicates that people don’t seem to mind.
This week, major local farmers markets are back in full force. Mount Pleasant’s Tuesday afternoon and evening market reopened this week. The Charleston Farmers Market returns to Marion Square on Saturday. Summerville’s market also cranks up Saturday. North Charleston’s market gets underway April 18.
Most of the markets have some new vendor every year. For Charleston, they include Yard Birds, selling fried chicken by the plate or the bucket; Molly & Me Pecans; Old Like New Resourced Wood Company; and Outta My Huevos, an outgrowth of a food truck that will offer brunch fare ranging from Huevos Rancheros to Drug Store Burgers.
But there’s more. “We have additional farmers, actually more farmers than we’ve ever had before,” says market manager Harrison Chapman.
Among them are Maria Baldwin and Our Local Foods; H. Bernard Freeman of Freeman Farm (two other Freemans also are at the market); Nellie Farms, offering produce, flowers and herbs; and Dirtworks Farm Alliance run by Rita Bachmann, selling “sustainable ecologically grown” produce.
New faces in Summerville also include food trucks. “We’re going to have food trucks out there that we didn’t have in the past,” says Nick Kierpiec, assistant manager of parks and recreation for the town.
He expects to have two trucks each week, rotating through all of those in the area over time.
Another newcomer will be sweet news to Southern food purists: “Banana Palooza” will serve up homemade ’nana pudding.
In all, Summerville’s market is counting 62 vendors covering 88 spots with some occupying more than one space. “We’re jamming people anywhere we can,” Kierpiec said.
One vendor in particular makes Summerville’s market stand out, Kierpiec says.
“Everybody knows us for Butch Chastain, known as the Flying Farmer. He does Flying Farmer Grits & Meal,” Kierpiec says.
Chastain hauls in a 1917 grits mill powered by an only slightly younger engine dating to 1925. “It sounds like popping popcorn. It’s very, very neat.”
But to Kierpiec, “The greatest things about our market, these people embrace each other as a family.” Everybody gets to know one another, he says.
Charleston’s market, the area’s oldest and largest at Marion Square in downtown Charleston, will open its new season with fanfare. Featured attractions on Saturday include:
10 a.m-1 p.m.: Cooking demonstrations by local restaurants and farmers as part of Lowcountry Local First: Plow to Chow.
9 a.m.-noon.: The sixth annual Push-Up & Up Challenge, a push-up teams competition that supports programs in dropout prevention and benefits Communities in Schools.
10 a.m.-2 p.m.: Musical entertainment by YeeHaw Junction.
Unveiling of the official 2013 Charleston Farmers Market Poster.
Major markets lineup
Charleston Farmers Market, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays, April 13-Dec. 21, Marion Square.
Highlights: More than 100 participating farmers, food vendors and artisans. A full directory of participants will be available at the Charleston Farmers Market Information Tent on-site.
North Charleston Farmers Market, noon-7 p.m. Thursdays, April 18-Oct. 31, Felix C. Davis Community Center, 4800 Park Circle.
Highlights: A performance or showcased artist is featured every week. Musical acts are on the first, third and fifth Thursdays of the month, and art demonstrations are on the second and fourth Thursdays.
Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, 3:30 p.m.-dusk Tuesdays through Oct. 8, Farmers Market Pavilion on Coleman Boulevard at Moultrie Middle School.
Highlights: Weekly events include live music in addition to free children’s activities. Free parking.
Summerville Farmers Market, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. April 13-Nov. 23., First Citizens bank parking lot adjacent to Summerville Town Hall, 200 S. Main St.
Highlights: Fresh local produce, meats including free-range chicken, seafood, baked goods and food trucks.