China Grove Farmers Market to carry on at new location

Published 12:06 am Thursday, May 4, 2023

CHINA GROVE — The Friday night Farmers Market will carry on, even if it is in a new location, which is, in truth, the perfect match.

For the last 13 years, the Farmers Market has been held at the China Grove Roller Mill, but according to Hope Oliphant, participation has dwindled and parking has become more and more of an issue.

Oliphant is the executive director of the Main Street Market and Meeting Place on Main Street, which will begin hosting the Farmers Market on site this Friday, May 5, from 4-7 p.m.

And it is the perfect connection, since the market’s goal is to help get local, farm fresh food to area residents, including those who might not normally be able to purchase those products.

Main Street Market is, first and foremost, not a food bank, despite using the space that once housed the bank. It is a cooperative effort, with three pricing tiers, intended to not only offer local, farm raised produce and meats to area shoppers but to give those who are income-challenged a chance to get fresh food on their table at an affordable price.

There are, according to Market Manager Brianna Caraccio, three price tiers. Blue is retail, and is essential in supporting the two additional tiers. Yellow and green indicate discounted prices. One indicates wholesale price, or what the market pays for the produce, and one is 30 percent off even the wholesale price. It is the blue shoppers who support and sustain the yellow and green shoppers, said Oliphant, and the market is still working on getting more blue price customers to keep the project on track.

“That’s the group we have had the hardest time getting in the door, but I think in part people don’t yet understand that we are a full service market and not a food bank,” she said. Produce fills the shop with bright, healthy colors and almost everything is local, with a few minor exceptions. Main Street Market works with a wholesaler in Winston-Salem as well as having partnerships with 25 farmers. All the meat and eggs are local.

Initially, Carraccio said some farmers were concerned that the Main Street Market might compete with them during the Farmers Market on prices, but they agreed that during Farmer’s Market hours, the Main Street Market will not sell any of the items that are being sold at the farmers market, so there will not be competition for the vendors.

Oliphant said the Main Street Market is one of a kind in the area, and not only do they offer food, but next door, they offer classes on healthy nutrition and cooking along with workshops that are part of their Getting Ahead program. And in fact, about 50 percent of the employees of that program now work at Main Street Market. In addition, the staff lives in China Grove, “which means we are people who are your neighbors. We’re part of your community,” said Oliphant. “You’ll cross paths with us in town. Which is all part of our goal of community connection and support.”

One graduate working for the program is Federico Hernandez, who is the hydroponic grower for the organization, growing several types of microgreens that right now are sold elsewhere, but the hope is to reach a point where the greens will be available in the market as well. He showed off the hydroponics room, pride evident in his face, while he explained how the process works.

“We harvest all year round,” he said, “anywhere from nine to 30 days.” Hernandez does have a technical degree in horticulture, spent 12 years in greenhouse work, and has been with the market for nearly three years, and he notes he is “very proud” of what he is accomplishing now.

Oliphant and Caraccio both noted that one of the outcomes they hope for with a program like Main Street Market is to change the way people look at charity.

“It’s about maintaining dignity,” said Oliphant. “It’s not about a handout. It’s about making something affordable, but allowing people the ability to purchase healthy foods for their family regardless of their income.” The yellow tier, which is wholesale price, represents the group that Oliphant says gets the least help. Often called the “working poor,” there are no state or federal programs because they make “too much money,” and yet not enough. “We’re one of the very few helping people in that category,” she said.

The Farmers Market, said Caraccio, has smaller, family farms as participants, rather than larger commercial farms. In addition, they are aware that because a number of farms participate in Saturday morning Farmer’s Markets, some are unable to supply two markets back to back. A number of the participants in the Farmer’s Market are new this year, however, and Oliphant said the goal is to make it a community event, with food trucks and entertainment in addition to new vendors.

The event Friday night has three main sponsors, F&M Bank, Patterson Farms and Novant, and both women expressed gratitude for those companies’  investment.

“Since a large part of what we do is to support local farmers and small businesses, it only made sense that we would host the Farmer’s Market,” said Oliphant. The Farmers Market will run on Fridays through Aug. 25. “Overall, we want individuals to understand that while change is hard in a small town, our goals are to help our local farmers and vendors while creating a great community event for the summer.”

In addition, the hope is that it will give residents and visitors a chance to check out Main Street Market, see what the organization is all about and perhaps make it their go-to shop for local food.