Every Tuesday afternoon, farmers sell their produce and specialty foods on the patio outside Mary’s Gourmet Diner on Trade Street. The Downtown Cobblestone Farmers Market invites residents to taste test and purchase locally-grown vegetables and craft items from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, groups of two to three people walked through the farmers market as storm clouds loomed above the covered patio. Three large tables lined the patio, offering produce from local operations Beta Verde, Rowland Row’s Family Farm and Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery. Collards, kale and vibrant radishes flowed over one of the tables, while the scent of fresh goat cheese lingered in the air.
“I think farmers markets have better quality food. I just wish it had the variety and low prices of large groceries,” said Ade Ilesanmi, 21, who was contemplating whether to purchase some bok choy from Rowland’s Row.
Margaret Norfleet Neff founded the Cobblestone Farmers Market system and discussed its origins in Old Salem Saturday mornings. “We needed food around Old Salem because it’s at the center of the largest food insecure area, but it needed to be a market for everybody,” she said. Eventually, the Old Salem Cobblestone Farmers Market managers met with a group of farmers who were interested in starting a weekday market.
The Downtown Cobblestone Farmers Market moved to its current location outside of Mary’s Gourmet Diner from its previous location at Krankie’s Coffee on Third Street. The market was temporarily located on Patterson, a parking lot on Fogle Street and outside the Milton Rhodes Center.
The Cobblestone Market system offers the only food subsidy program in the city, the Matching Program, according to Norfleet Neff. “Every time you purchase directly, 40 to 70 cents of your dollar stays in the community, compared to less than one percent at big-box groceries,” she said. The Matching Program makes organic food available to customers who qualify for the federal government’s Electronic Benefit Transfer or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, colloquially known as food stamps.
The Old Salem Cobblestone Farmers Market draws larger numbers, 2,300 to 3,700 people every Saturday, versus a range of between 50 to 300 people during the Tuesday market, according to Norfleet Neff. “This is the one we’re growing right now,” she said.
The number of customers and farmers has decreased as colder weather moves in. Despite the smaller crowd, the market showed that agricultural production doesn’t end with the summer.
For some, attending the Downtown Cobblestone Farmers Market is a matter of both convenience and the quality of the products sold. “I like the downtown market because it’s quieter than the Old Salem market and it is closer to my home,” said Kelly Wright, who lives northwest of downtown. “I like supporting local businesses and I’m trying to feed my kids organic.”
The vendors, who attend both the downtown and Old Salem markets, expressed their support for the weekday market and its continued growth. For every farmer present, the Downtown Farmers Market has helped business. “We have been members of the Cobblestone Market for about five years now. It makes up about 40 percent of our sales,” said Johnny Blakely of Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery in Germanton. Blakely was selling “goat berries,” a type of flavored cheese balls as the specialty item of the day.
While the attendance numbers aren’t as large as the Old Salem Farmers Market, the business present Oct. 14 explained the benefits of the downtown location. “Midweek markets are not going to be as strong as your weekend markets, but the Downtown Farmers Market has definitely been good for business,” said Joe Rowland of Rowland’s Row Family Farm.
In addition to managing the Downtown Cobblestone Farmers Market, Norfleet Neff is also a vendor. She owns a business, with her daughter, called Beta Verde, which produces and sells gourmet jams. On Oct. 14, jars of approximately ten different types of jams lined the Beta Verde table. In the center, a display of blueberry jalapeno, one of the business’s most popular jams according to Norfleet Neff, was nearly picked clean.
Market organizers hope that the downtown market will continue to grow. Norfleet Neff discussed working with the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership in order to help market the business. “The strength of any farmers market is the uniqueness of the product,” said Jason Thiel, the organization’s president. “They’re wonderful people, wonderful operators. They do it the right way.”
The downtown market will go on hiatus on Oct. 28 and reopen May 26.