WEST JEFFERSON-Spring has finally arrived.
After a long, cold mountain winter, the back street was buzzing this weekend as the long anticipated opening of the Ashe County Farmers Market came off without a hitch.
The April 16, session marked the first time the market has opened it’s doors for vendors and customers since it shut down for the winter back in October, and with blue sky and sunshine overhead, hundreds turned out to see what was cooking in town.
“It’s been a great opening day,” Lori Goodman, the new manager of the Ashe County Farmers Market, said shortly after noon on Saturday. “The crowd has finally started to thin out a little bit but it was packed this morning.”
Here’s what you need to know.
Spring, summer and fall
The Ashe County Farmers Market’s opens from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., each Saturday from mid-April through mid-October each year on the northern end of West Jefferson’s Backstreet. At the peak of the season, the market will add an additional session on Wednesdays beginning July 6.
Nearly 60 vendors
This year the market boasts nearly 60 vendors, selling everything from soaps to fresh meats, along with crafts and the more traditional produce you might expect from a farmers market. Locally made honey and maple syrup, jams and baked goods, cheeses and soaps are also available, along with things like apples trees, herbs and flowers, local pottery and handmade baskets and trout flies.
Expect even more this season
For the first time ever, the market welcomes four new farms from adjoining counties thanks to a change in the markets eligibility requirements. In past years the market would only allow items grown or raised in Ashe County to be sold at the market, but this year producers from adjoining counties, including Wilkes, Alleghany, Watauga, Grayson County, VA., and Johnson County, TN, will bring their goods to sell. Many of those counties have slightly longer growing seasons than Ashe County, according to Goodman, which means the market should have fresh produce sooner in addition to more berries, peaches and apples than have been sold at the market in the past. That change only affects growers, however. All the arts and crafts sold at the market will still be made right here on the mountain.
It’s best to arrive early
You’ll have the best shot at finding what you’re looking for and you’ll be able to grab a parking spot close to the market. Parking is limited along the Backstreet – even after the crowds had started to thin around noon on April 16, the only parking available was two blocks up the street near Parson’s Farm Supply – so you’ll want to show up early or put your walking shoes on.
A sad goodbye
The long time face of the Ashe County Farmers Market, former General Manager John Smyre, retired earlier this year. Smyre had run the market for some six years, and helped lead it through much of the Great Recession. But don’t worry, though Smyre said he and his wife will be spending a little more time traveling, he’ll still be around many Saturdays supporting the market.
Meet the new face of the ACFM
Smyre has been replaced by new Market Manager Lori Goodman. She has more than twelve years of experiencing with county government – mainly along the coast of North Carolina – and she moved here with her husband four years ago. “We’d been searching for something in this area for a long time,” Goodman said. “We knew we wanted something more rural and scenic and when we saw this place we knew this was it.” She’s been a regular customer at the Ashe County Farmers Market since moving and decided to turn her talents to managing it when Smyre stepped away.
A crash course
Goodman can vouch for another benefit of the market. If you’re new to the area and looking to find out more about what makes Ashe County tick, you probably won’t find a better source of information that at the market. Its vendors come from all over the county but, crucially, many are retired or hold down day jobs. “You’ll pretty well be able to find somebody there, just in that market space, who can answer whatever question you have about this area,” Goodman said. “And that’s a valuable thing for somebody who’s new to Ashe County.”
Entrepreneurship – up close and personal
There might be no better way to support your local entrepreneurs than to shop at the farmers market, Goodman said. “I think the real benefit is to give some of our smaller, more entrepreneurial growers and producers a chance to get their stuff into the hands of people they otherwise might never interact with,” Goodman said. “If they become hugely successful and expand into a storefront – like Ann Rose did with Rose Mountain Butcher Shoppe – that’s great, but the idea here is to give the smaller growers a shot to run with their idea. If we help somebody out with their dream, we’ve done alright.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr