Where free market meets farmers market

by Brian Clarey

Bushels of produce grown at Dodge Lodge Farms — and some that isn’t — anchor the wares at the Greensboro Downtown Farmers Market. (photo by Brian Clarey)

Farmer Mike Causey stands outside his little green building tucked into the urban landscape like a flower growing up through parkinglot asphalt. He waves a young mother and her little girl inside, where the wholesome aroma of organic produce wafts like perfume.

Onions. Peppers. Cukes. Tomatoes. Yams. Peanuts and pecans. Dried beans and rhubarb. And the most striking fronds of Swiss chard you’ve ever seen in your life, iridescent green with strong red veins and stalks, piled in bushel baskets and on tabletops throughout the cheery space.

Most of the produce comes straight from Dodge Lodge Farms in Greensboro, which has been in Causey’s family since 1924, when they purchased it from Mr. Marcellus Hartley Dodge, chairman of the board of Remington, the shotgun maker, a Manhattan swell who had built a hunting lodge there in 1907, the same year he and the niece of John D. Rockefeller became the wealthiest newlyweds in the country.

Causey opened this farmers market in December, after a teapot tempest nudged him out of the Yanceyville Farmers Curb Market for selling contraband — specifically, blueberries that were not grown at Dodge Lodge, against the rules imposed by the Greensboro Parks & Recreation Department.

No hard feelings here. “If that had never happened,” Causey says, “I probably wouldn’t have done this place.”

Here, under the auspices of private enterprise, Causey is free to keep his market open six days a week instead of one. And he is able to peddle whatever wares he chooses.

So there will be blueberries when they ripen in May. And for now there is beef from Asheboro, Santa Gertrudis cattle, “red and tender by design,” as the slogan pronounces. There is organic pasta from a woman in Boone calling herself the “Pasta Wench.” There are French pastries from Greensboro, eggs from the Homeland Creamery in Julian, locally sourced chocolates and even bison meat raised in the Piedmont.

“The focus is on local and organic,” Causey says. The young mother and her little girl browse the displays, securing a pound or so of pecans, a head of broccoli and a sheaf of that magnificent Swiss chard, which her husband will cut into strips and saut’ with chopped onions, garlic and a little olive oil. It will be magnificent.

But now Causey is talking about peach trees to another customer, and the dangers of vacillations in early spring weather.

“This is the month to prune a peach tree,” he says. He recommends an organic spray made of fish oils to keep off the bugs and rot.

Since the neighborhood market has opened, Causey has seen traffic increase — lunchtime browsers looking for something healthy, afterwork commuters looking to bring something fresh home for dinner; organic converts seeking out unmodified enzymes and amino acids.

“We’ve had customers say they appreciate us being open six days a week,” Causey says.

In another building along the parking lot, individual vendors set up shop with homemade and homegrown goodies.

“Jammin’” George Daher, a Greensboroan of Lebanese descent who once designed military command control systems, now makes jams — mango, peach, pear, triple berry — better than anything you can get in a store. He’s also got bars of fig or date and walnuts, and an assortment of Lebanese delicacies that he is anxious to share.

I always say, ‘Tasting is believing,’” he says as he gathers some samples.

Daher’s Hummus is fresh and light, smoother than anything you can get in a grocery store.

“That’s how hummus us supposed to taste,” he says. The baba ghanouj has the delicate redolence of eggplant and his tabouleh — a salad of cracked wheat and herbs — is exemplary.

Daher says he tried to get a stand at the Yanceyville market, but “they strung me along from September, telling me, ‘Next week, next week.’” He’s been set up here since December.

Then Daher opens a container of grape leaves, seasoned rice balls wrapped by his wife in leaves from grape vines grown on their property. They are meatless, but with the added zing of tomato and spicing more subtle than one would get from the canned product available in grocery stores and ethnic delis.

Customer Sam Nash, himself of Mediterranean descent, has picked up a container of them, along with some pita and oregano cookies. He shows his package to a reporter.

“Look at these grape leaves,” he says. “See how that’s rolled? That’s love.”

wanna go?

Greensboro Downtown Farm Market 505 N. Greene St. Greensboro