I’ve become a fan of the Farmer’s Market. It’s not just the freshness or that it’s local. It’s not just the variety and the friendliness of the vendors. In some cases, what you hold in your hand may have come from the ground that very morning. It’s also about seeing a sweet potato the size of a toy fire truck or picking up a bell pepper with a bright, red color that’s almost blinding.
Depending on the day of the week, there’s likely to be one of these come-as-you-are markets close to your neighborhood.
I’ve been to these markets in Mount Pleasant, North Charleston and Johns Island. There’s also the one in Marion Square, in downtown Charleston. Recently, I stopped-in at the West Ashley location off Highway 61 at Ackerman Park.
As a first-timer, I barely knew where to look. The Gruber family farm from St. George offered peaches the size of softballs and shelled butter beans that made my mouth water. Susan Gruber Kirlin, one of four Gruber children now running the family business tells a customer, “We’ve got some beautiful orange peppers today.”
Across the lot, the Freeman Farm from Johns Island, shows off some collards and squash. Oliver Freeman is the fourth generation to wake up early and pull the produce from the rich, black earth. “Daddy had 12 children, we got our education from the field,” Freeman says in an understated, low voice.
Truth is in the taste
In still another corner, the Robert Fields farm, also from Johns Island, offers onions on which you can still smell the dirt. To me, that’s a good thing.
Mixed between these three area farms are vendors selling everything from local cheese to lemonade. There’s also fresh pasta, including a pumpkin tortellini.
For a while, I sat on a stump underneath an oak tree, just watching the people and the produce. It was mid-afternoon and a gentle breeze added to an almost hypnotic mixture of food and family.
There were moms recently from yoga class. A retired couple carrying plastic bags with unshucked corn spilling from the edges. Young children in strollers and elderly shoppers aided by walkers.
Mary Beth Hershberger, a single mother of a 2-year-old, explained, “I like supporting local people, plus, you know what you’re getting.”
A city police officer provides a watchful presence.
And then, something I didn’t expect. The entertainment this particular afternoon featured opera singers. Imagine all that I’ve attempted to describe as “Till There Was You” is sung in the background.
Pickles to peppers
The market manager is city employee Harrison Chapman. “Customers get a chance to discuss the value of the food from the people who grew it.
"And ... it tastes different,” Chapman asserts. This market operates every Wednesday from 3-7 p.m. through Oct. 24.
Though other markets in the area are more established, this one continues to evolve. Games are provided for small children and as the weather cools, vendors offering chocolate and coffee will be added.
Meanwhile, under the Gruber tent, Susan tells the next customer, “We have blueberries, blackberries and farm fresh eggs.” Across the way, Mr. Freeman says, “... the fresher, the better. Some of this was harvested this morning.”
The Pickle Lady from Ravenel is ready with Mason jars that exhale when unscrewing the cap. I even saw one man carrying a ‘Napa Know How’ bag full of stuff in one hand and a fistful of just-cut sunflowers in the other.
There’s a lot to see and smell and taste at a Farmer’s Market. What satisfies my appetite most, though, is seeing us all just being ourselves. No judgments, no politics, no pretense.
Sometimes, there’s quite a bit to digest, if you just take the time to sit on a stump.