You can’t say Arlene Haigler doesn’t have on-the-job experience.
Frank Suddreth, the manager of the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, was on the job for 29 years when he retired at the start of the summer at age 78. His administrative assistant, Haigler, started work in 1984, so she has 28 years in.
I’ve always known Arlene from a distance. That means that when I’d call Frank to check something or other, he’d holler over his shoulder: “Arlene! When are we doing Tractor Day this year?”
That’s kind of the way things work at the regional farmers market on Yorkmont Road. Keep calm, don’t get upset, and do your best to make everybody happy.
So that’s what Haigler is doing. As the new acting manager, she’s sprucing up a little. Putting in some new landscaping, painting doors and benches. “A woman’s touch, somewhat,” she jokes.
She’s also trying to make room for new farmers, a perennial problem at the market. A new tent section at the end of one building made room for eight more.
They no longer take vendors who aren’t N.C. farmers or food producers, although some S.C. vendors are staying because they’ve been there so long.
She’s interested in talking to farmers about things like a farmer-mentoring program that would let a new farmer share a stand with an older farmer while getting started.
“(Farming) isn’t book knowledge, it’s common knowledge,” she says. “And that means a lot right there.”
Mostly, though, things are working well, she says. The June numbers showed traffic was up, and most of the vendors say they had a good summer. She saw a group of chefs walking through together last Saturday, and Mayor Anthony Foxx is a regular shopper. (Way to go, Hizzoner.)
They’re also looking into ways to make it easier to tell which vendors grow or make their own food. Besides the “Local Farmer/Local Food” signs at some stands, she also has Got To Be N.C. signs that show it was grown in the state.
Mostly, she wants to do what makes the farmers and customers happy.
“It’s their market,” she says. “It’s your market. It’s the taxpayers’ market.”
If you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Frank Suddreth, stop by the Rocky River Vineyards stand, the first winery selling at the market. Frank’s “lady friend” (as Arlene calls her) owns Rocky River, so he’s a Saturday morning seller himself now.
Haigler is a country girl herself. She lives out in Union County, and she’s proud of her hunting and fishing. Even though her title is acting manager, she’s the first female market manager in the state.
“For six months, I’ve made history,” she says proudly. “’Bout as exciting as when I caught that 20-pound cooter out at my pond.”