The market that could

Aug. 06, 2013 @ 06:40 PM

Today, the South Durham Farmers’ Market (SDFM) is a successful community hub that regularly attracts more than 300 shoppers every Saturday morning with a rotating roster of 35 vendors. Just four years ago, however, the SDFM was merely an idea supported by a group of local farmers and community members.

In September 2009, Durham County’s Farmland Protection Advisory Board released a plan identifying a need for additional markets for local farmers.  Of course, the Durham Farmers’ Market, located at Central Park and established in 1998, was already a center for fresh, local produce in the community. But during the past decade, the population of Durham County had grown by more than 20 percent. South Durham, in particular, became much more densely populated, and many new residents wanted local produce, meat, eggs and dairy products. Also, the Durham Farmers’ Market couldn’t accommodate all of the new farmers in the area.

Despite the obvious need, more than two years passed before farmers and community members were able to open the South Durham Farmers’ Market on April 28, 2012. Initially, the effort to establish a market was led by members of the Farmland Protection Advisory Board, local farmers and city-level government officials.

Kathryn Spann, chair of the Farmland Protection Advisory Board and current president of SDFM’s board of directors, attended meetings with other volunteers for almost two years to develop the market’s guiding rules and principles. However, one of the most difficult tasks for the Board was finding a location. Durham’s zoning restrictions ruled out residential areas and few commercial zones had the requisite parking capacity to incorporate a market.

The board initially chose Sutton Station to host the market, but about one month before the opening of the market, the board was notified that the planning board would not permit the location. The board scrambled to find a new location, and their hard work paid off: The zoning mishap only delayed the opening of the market at Greenwood Commons by one week. 

This “little market that could,” as Spann calls it, has remained true to its founding principles. Community members are placed in high regard, and unlike most farmers’ markets, can serve on the board. The SDFM also strongly supports new farmers and diversity when considering vendor applications every January. In fact, this is the first farmers’ market for many of the vendors.

As manager of the SDFM, I feel much as Spann does that, “It has been an unexpected joy to witness the market serve as a meeting place that unites our urban and rural communities.” I look forward to sharing with readers my experiences as market manager and my appetite for local food. Come visit us this Saturday!