Farmers Market: Market-ing happiness
There are no synthetic pesticides.
There are animal welfare approved meat and eggs. Local dollars stay local. Those are just three of the many reasons people in the Triad come to Old Salem on Saturday mornings to participate in Cobblestone Farmers Market.
Margaret Norfleet-Neff used to live in Chicago. While in the Windy City, Margaret and her family sprouted a love for the farming lifestyle. They grew their own fruits and vegetables, and they started to see that producers had a purpose that could help others live healthier lives. When Margaret and her family moved to the Winston-Salem area, she started selling pickles at a in the area. That is how she met other producers, and that is why Cobblestone Farmers Market exists today.
When you walk into the market, you see a booth at the entrance. Unlike the dozens of other booths, this particular one isn’t selling fresh produce, flowers or baked goods. The two women sitting in this booth are selling their dream.
“This is an independent market,” Neff said.
Cobblestone Farmers Market is partially funded by producers, grant funds and private donations.
Neff’s daughter, Salem, accompanied Margaret in the booth the entire morning, greeting folks as if they were part of the Neff family. This is the third year that the mother-daughter duo has been running the Cobblestone Farmers Market. Starting on May 27, the ladies will also be in charge of the Downtown Market on Tuesdays from 3:30-6 pm. The Tuesday market will be located between Trade and Liberty streets, near 7 th Street.
Several people came up to the booth just to tell the Neffs how much they appreciated their efforts.
The producers at the market range from young families to seasoned farming veterans, and the Neffs have nothing but nice things to say about all of them.
“Everybody here is just so fabulous,” Neff said. “We are just so honored to work with the best producers out there.”
Craig Rogers, owner of Border Springs Farm in Patrick Springs, Va., was not shy in saying exactly how he felt about Cobblestone. “I have been to Farmers Markets in D.C., Philadelphia, Roanoke . . . all over the place.” Rogers said. “This is, by far, the best Farmers Market I’ve been to.”
Border Springs was voted one of the top-five meat producers in the country, and Neff was quick to brag about Roger’s delicious lamb.
Rogers explained that, a lot of times, Farmers Markets are treated as more of a social gathering or a place to be seen rather than a purposeful event for consumers to buy quality food from safe vendors.
“There are all kinds of ‘foodies’ now, so there is a demand for prepared meals at other markets that I have been to, so they kind of feel like food courts rather than markets,” Rogers said. “This one is an honest Farmers Market.”
“Our producers actually chose the 9 a.m. start time on Saturdays so that they can pick their goods early in the morning and sell them right after,” Neff said.
The market offers everything from various greens like spinach, kale and salad mix to other vegetables like tomato plants, radishes and beets with a lot of variety in between. There are also producers of fresh cut flowers, dairy products, wine and meat. You will also notice that there are coffee producers as well as the producers of baked goods, and these producers are almost all local.
“We are a business about businesses,” Neff said.
Neff explained that the market is like an umbrella for about 50 other businesses, and it is their job to market Cobblestone the correct way.
“It’s about consistency and respect,” Neff said. “It’s our job to nurture this.”
One of the most important aspects of starting a business is picking the ideal location. Cobblestone is located within the Old Salem district, giving the market a visually pleasing background of historic buildings as well as a culturally fulfilling experience.
“This is such a beautiful location,” Neff said. “We like to see people come to the market and then walk over to Old Salem and check it out.”
Downtown areas are known for being trendy and filled with retail, but the residents of the area have a hard time finding grocery stores nearby.
“There are no grocery stores within at least a one-mile radius of the markets,” Neff said. “So it was really a response to a demand.”
For those who favor the healthy lifestyle, even shopping at grocery stores can be a hassle. People want to know where the food came from, how the animals were treated in the process and how clean the fruit and vegetables are.
“One of the best things about our market is that it takes all those questions away, and people can just experience a fun Saturday morning without worrying about the quality of the products,” Neff said. “We promise that this is a completely safe environment. Everyone wins.”
Margaret and Salem Neff want everyone to have the opportunity to experience their market regardless of economic standing. It is no secret that eating healthy is more expensive than eating poorly, so the Cobblestone Farmers Market is now accepts payments from government-funded programs such as EBT and W.I.C. They are the only market in the county that accepts these payments, and they are only one of five markets that accept them in the state of North Carolina.
“So many young people and families want quality food, but they struggle to get it financially,” Neff said. “This is for them.”
Walking around the market, you can’t help but notice the happiness it brings people. The producers are happy to serve. The customers are happy to receive. Everyone was happy with the music of the Twin City Buskers.
Out of the hundreds of people that came out on this Saturday morning, the two happiest people in the market were Margaret and Salem Neff.
“People have a reason to come here every week from now through November,” Neff said. “This is just a win-win for everyone.” !