A collection of summer: Farmers markets provide the best the season has to offer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Summer brings the best the South has to offer in plenty&8212;lemonade stands, leisurely weekends and fresh produce&8212;and area farmer&8217;s markets offer one of the best ways to enjoy it all at once.

Each weekend throughout the summer, county residents and others pack open-air spaces in Columbiana and Mt Laurel where small farms, farmers, artisans and florists set up booths to sell their specialties.

Also, as popularity of the markets grow, organizers are finding ways to give visitors a little more.

&8220;We wanted it to be an enjoyable experience as well as a way to buy fresh and local produce,&8221; said Thomas McDaniel, who started Columbiana&8217;s market last year. He said planning for this year includes musical entertainment each Saturday and, in the coming weeks, a couple of spots set up with game boards.

&8220;We&8217;re trying to make it a relaxing atmosphere,&8221; McDaniel said. &8220;If they want to just sit and talk and play checkers or chess, they can do that.&8221;

Mt Laurel organizer Kelly Burley said her town&8217;s market has added a rock climbing wall for children, along with a lemonade and snow cone stand. Despite all the activities and extras, though, Burley said the fresh vegetables remain the favorite.

&8220;That&8217;s definitely what draws people out,&8221; Burley said.

Ricky Colquitt, county extension coordinator, said the markets are a great way to connect farmers and consumers.

&8220;The biggest thing for the consumers is they get to buy fresh produce that tends to be more vine-ripened,&8221; he said, as opposed to varieties sold in stores that are grown to withstand shipment. &8220;As far as the old Southern staples&8212;peas, butter beans, squashes, okras, cantaloupes&8212;yes, they&8217;re going to be wonderful.&8221;

McDaniel said Columbiana&8217;s market averages four to five vendors selling produce and fresh flowers. Mt Laurel&8217;s market, in its seventh year, averages five to six farmers and 15 to 16 artisans selling crafts ranging from hand-carved wooden bowls to children&8217;s clothing.

Both organizers said shoppers can also find products such as eggs, goat&8217;s cheese or honey.

&8220;I would just urge everybody if they&8217;ve never shopped at a farmer&8217;s market that they would just give it a try,&8221; Colquitt said.

Local Farmer&8217;s Markets

– Columbiana market:

Saturdays, through August

7 a.m. &045; noon

Yuesdays, 2 p.m. &045; 6 p.m.

Musical entertainment provided every Saturday. Walton Street in parking lot behind courthouse.

– Mt. Laurel market:

Saturdays, through October

Dogs welcome. Town center on Manning Place.