Farmers markets mean more fresh foods

Cartons of vibrant yellow squash and deep red strawberries sit sprawled across Al Hooks’ stand at the Valleydale Farmer’s Market.

This market is one of three new farmers markets to open in Shelby County this year. Helena’s Market Days and Wilsonville’s Farmers Market join the list as well.

“If you have not eaten fresh produce, you have missed out on one of the best things in life,” said Thomas McDaniel, who organizes the Columbiana Farmers Market.

The Columbiana market opened in 2006. Now, it is a unique operation, opening Monday-Friday from noon-5 p.m. and Saturdays 7 a.m.-noon. Most markets only open Saturdays, but McDaniel said this schedule gives farmers more opportunity to sell.

The addition of three new markets in the county also fills the need.

Matt Churnock runs the Valleydale market. His day job involves urban design and he said markets create new purpose for empty parking lots.

“It’s a way of knowing where your produce comes from and a great way to bring growers to a market that doesn’t know how to find them otherwise,” he said. “Filling these parking lots with fresh foods adds value.”

The Valleydale market opened May 23 in the parking lot of Faith Presbyterian Church. Early on, growers are limited in what they bring, but even now customers can find strawberries, broccoli, squash and other cold-season produce.

“Buying a tomato from Publix is a different experience than buying from someone right in front of you who grew it themselves,” Churnock said. “They can tell you everything about how it was grown.”

McDaniel agrees buying fresh is a unique experience.

He doesn’t, however, want to completely discredit supermarkets. He worked in one for more than 20 years before joining the US Department of Agriculture. He said shopping directly from local farmers simply gives the buyer an advantage.

“When you buy something from places that have big trucks bringing in produce, it’s not helping local farmers,” McDaniel said. “You also aren’t helping yourself because most of the produce had to be picked before it had ripened and sprayed to look right.”

Shelby County Extension Agent Angela Treadaway said she’s seen a dramatic increase in people’s interest in fresh foods.

“I think if people went back to the way we used to be, growing our own gardens and canning our own produce, people’s health would greatly improve,” Treadaway said. “It’s a lot more nutritious because you’re getting so many less preservatives and additives.”

Consumers can also find items like fresh eggs, cheese and honey at these markets. There are also often craftsmen selling everything from pottery to homemade soaps.

Helena’s market will also feature chef demonstrations each week. This week’s demonstration features Chef Etrcia Williams of 122 Tree Lane in Helena.

Finding fresh produce won’t be difficult this year in Shelby County. Those seeking juicy fruits and veggies can pick up bags worth from the following markets: the Camp Branch Farmer’s Market in Alabaster (Every two weeks from 9a.m.–1 p.m. – next one June 13); Columbiana Farmers Market; Helena Market Days, Saturdays 8 a.m.-noon; Mt Laurel Farmer’s Market, each Saturday June-October from 8 a.m.-noon; Valleydale Farmers Market, each Saturday through September from 7 a.m.-noon; and the Wilsonville Farmers Market at the town hall each Saturday through October.