Meet the farmers of South Durham Farmers’ Market

Jan. 13, 2014 @ 05:15 PM

Part of buying food locally is getting to know the farmers who grow it.
Guests at the South Regional Library branch Sunday had the opportunity to do just that as farmers who sell each week at the South Durham Farmers’ Market talked about what they do and how they get produce to the market.
Liz Young of S&H Farm, Mark Paylor of 4M Farms, Jillian Mickens of Open Door Farm, Ben Bergmann of Fickle Creek Farm and Matt Ball of Down 2 Earth Farm spoke at the event, facilitated by South Durham Farmers’ Market manager Elizabeth Zander.
“We have a wide range of experience and expertise represented here,” Zander said of the group.
The 2-and-a-half-year-old farmers’ market in Greenwood Commons Shopping Center came about with the realization that there the number of farmers who wanted to share their products with the public was growing. With no space, though, to accommodate them, the South Durham Farmers’ Market was born.
Many of the farmers at the discussion have been in the business for less than 10 years, with the exception of Paylor who comes from a farming tradition with 80 years of familial experience backing his products.
“I didn’t like [farming] at the start,” he said. “I grew up with it. I was raised on a tobacco farm. We switched to vegetables in 2001. It’s a lot more work in vegetables than in tobacco.”
Mickens said that she came into farming with a dietician background on the pop culture wave of growing your own food and eating healthier.
Bergmann has been farming full time since 2003, mostly in Orange County, with the overall goal of producing sustainable fruits and vegetables. Part of Bergmann’s approach includes employing animals to help prep the land for crops.
“We started with literally nothing, so the first thing we had were goats to clear the land,” he said.
Bergmann said that every animal has a purpose, including the chickens who fertilize the soil, the sheep who graze and the ducks who eat the slugs.
Of the group, Ball is the newest to farming. With almost two years of hands-on experience with no background in agriculture, he said that he has been enjoying all he’s learned and is looking forward to another year.
“I didn’t know I wanted to be a farmer until I was a farmer,” he said. “It’s been quite the learning curve for the last year or so.”
When asked about the typical day, the farmers agreed that the spring and summer is when they tend to put in the most work.
“It’s a lot of work. It’s non-stop,” Bergmann said. “You have to love it.”
“I don’t think you have an average day on a farm,” Paylor said. “The typical day starts at 5 a.m. and you never get to do what you plan to do.”
Last year proved challenging to most of the farmers. More rain than normal coupled with high humidity destroyed many crops and heavily damaged others.
“Going out every day in boots and working in the wet and humid conditions, it becomes a mental thing more than physical,” Ball said.
The farmers’ market, however, seems to be a highlight to the farming life.
“It’s really nice to see people and talk to other farmers and educate people on our products,” Mickens said.
“It’s not a day off,” Bregmann said. “It’s social and you get to see people but you’ve got to sell. It takes a lot of attention and thought, but I think it’s the most rewarding part of the year.”
For more information on the South Durham Farmers’ Market visit www.southdurhamfarmersmarket.org.