Lee Branch Farmers Market back for 2021 season

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer

HOOVER — When Mike and Renee Betz founded The Marketplace at Lee Branch in 2016, they wanted to bring together a community of growers, vendors, artisans and health enthusiasts to help promote healthier living.

But what some might not know is that the inspiration for the market grew out of Renee’s personal battle with cancer.

“When I was starting my healing journey, I committed to eating healthier, and if I didn’t have seven fruits or vegetables a day, life wasn’t good,” Renee Betz admitted. “Locally grown produce has more vitamins and nutrients than what is available at the grocery store.”

While there were some good options around, there wasn’t that great place where people could listen to music while talking with a local farmer or watch a cooking demonstration, for example.

From the beginning, The Marketplace at Lee Branch has been synonymous with locally-grown, organic produce. Because they are a certified market through the Alabama Farmers Market Authority, all produce must be grown within the state of Alabama, and on top of that, some farmers have put up the cost of getting certified themselves.

“One of our guiding tenets is to support local produce and local farmers. Organic is our preference, but we have regular farmers too,” said Helen Ryan, a managing partner and a certified nutritionist. “We try to stay open as long as produce is available. We feel like honoring the growing season helps the farmers get that produce out there.”

The market returned May 8 and is scheduled to open each Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to noon through the end of September. Live music begins about 9:30, and cooking demos are typically held at 9:15 and 10:45.

Bouncing back from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has thinned out the crowd some, but the market has a loyal clientele, especially given the opportunity to order curbside via the market’s website, TheMarketplaceAtLeeBranch.com. For example, on June 19, people would drive up directly to the farmers’ tent despite the rain.

“We had die-hard customers showing up in ponchos, umbrellas,” said market director and event planner Mark Brady. “I was thinking to myself, I need to be more die-hard like them. Being willing to go out in a monsoon and shop for blueberries or whatever.”

Brady had similar motivation to that of Betz to get involved in the market—he lost his mom to cancer, and after her journey he wanted to start eating healthier.

“This is our sixth year, and it has grown substantially before COVID,” Betz said. “We were able to switch to online (ordering) for COVID. The area embraced it. We had some Saturdays 200 customers coming through. It dwindled down in September, and then we stopped the market for the season and picked it back up again this year with the open market as well as online.”

Marketgoers and potential new customers can mark their calendars for plenty of upcoming events this year at the Marketplace:

-July 24—Peach Festival Day

-July 31—Super Hero Day (everyone dresses as their favorite super hero)

-Aug. 21—Market Iron Chef Competition (local professional and amateur chefs source ingredients from the farmers market and prepare a dish to win the judges’ favorite award and the crowd favorite award)

Aug. 28—4-H Day (Shelby County 4-H hosts an air rocket demo and competition; Shelby County Arts Council hosts a meta-forging demo)

For more information or to order online, visit

TheMarketplaceAtLeeBranch.com.