When I first started this blog, I promised that I would travel to other farmers markets in the Charlotte area in order to share all that is available to this region in terms of local foods. In that vein, I accompanied a friend to the Charlotte Farmers Market on Yorkmont Rd. this past Saturday morning to experience what I’ve been told is the largest market in the area. The market is run by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services and features close to 100 vendors.
Boy, am I glad that I went with someone that was familiar with this farmers market. Unlike other markets that I’ve been to, this one is closer to a flea market than a road side stand. Four gigantic covered sheds comprise the market: one exclusively for craft items, one housing only plants and the other two for produce. Seems straight forward, right? Unfortunately, it’s not. Both produce sheds contain a mix of local and third-party imported meat, fruits and vegetables and you have to look hard to differentiate the two. When you first enter the middle shed, the first 15 or so vendors grow exclusively from this region of North Carolina. However, the further back you go the more imported food there is. I knew when we got to the sweet corn and avocados about half way back that we weren’t in NC produce anymore.
Going to this market really made me think about how we classify farmers markets. By definition, the Yorkmont Road market is a place where farmers bring their produce to sell. But in many ways "farmers market" is a broad title for a market that happens to include 15 or so local farmers. I worry that this type of market just makes some people feel like they are buying local, and subsequently better, food but some vendors are no better than grocery stores.
When I voiced this concern to a friend this weekend, he made an excellent point: perhaps true farmers markets, where items are necessarily grown or butchered by the farmers within X number of miles from the market, are not feasible in all areas. There may be places where markets can only flourish by providing non-local produce like bananas and oranges so that the uneducated buyer will come buy those and hopefully pick up a local item while there. Maybe our local markets are only possible because they have a mix of items to satisfy the incredibly diverse American diet. Though this point of view saddens me somewhat, if having a huge variety of not necessarily local food is what brings people out to a market and they buy local products as well, perhaps this is the future of farmers markets.
As usual, I have digressed but these issues are important to those of us that are adamant about only buying food grown locally. The Yorkmont market is a great place to find more than your average number of local meat and produce, but you have to talk to the farmers and read their information to truly learn what is local. One huge advantage of this market is its hours, below, but make sure you go early - it is also a very popular market and getting in and our during peak hours can be a challenge.
March through September:
Tuesday - Saturday: 8:00am to 6:00pm
October through February:
Tuesday - Saturday: 8:00am to 5:00pm
1801 Yorkmont Rd.