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Savor fresh food at farmers markets

The best food in the South is fresh: Tomatoes. Cantaloupes. Sweet corn. I get fuzzy just thinking about peaches.

With mild winters and hot summers, the growing season around here can stretch from January to, yes, January. That means the farmers market season can go all year, too. Most towns and even large neighborhoods have summer markets, but there are winter-and-summer markets, too.

Each year in the spring, The Observer puts together two lists that stay posted through the fall at www.charlotteobserver.com/food. The first covers pick-your-own farms, where you can go into the fields and pick seasonal food for yourself. It starts with April strawberries and continues through October pumpkins.

The second list includes at least 40 farmers markets in the 13-country area surrounding Charlotte.

You don’t have to wait for summer, though. Here are six year-round markets to get you started:

Atherton Market at Atherton Mills, 2104 South Blvd. This fast-growing urban market has a local-food focus, with prepared foods and crafts in addition to locally grown meat and produce. Manager Lynn Caldwell keeps innovating, with chef classes and community outreach initiatives. The hours continue to expand as it grows. Currently, it’s 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday,10 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, but it also has special events. The best way to keep up is through the Facebook page, at athertonmillandmarket, or www.athertonmillandmarket.com.

Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, 1801 Yorkmont Road. This is the official N.C. Agriculture Department market for this area. It includes locally grown produce as well as produce from other areas, plants and crafts. While Saturday mornings are the busiest times, it also has weekday hours. 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturdays (8 a.m.-5 p.m. October-March), as well as noon-6 p.m. Sundays May-August. 704-357-1269.

The Davidson Farmers Market, 128 Main St., Davidson. This is a growers-only market with plenty of variety, including produce, meat, cheeses and baked goods. 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays through October, then every other Saturday morning from November to March. Look for the tents between Main and Jackson streets next to Town Hall. www.davidsonfarmersmarket.org.

The Matthews Community Farmers Market, 105 N. Trade St., Matthews. This was the first grower-only market in the area and it’s still a key part of the local-food movement. It’s well-organized, with newsletters, volunteers and many chef events. The hours are usually 7:15 a.m.-noon Saturdays from April-November, 8-10 a.m. Saturdays from December-March, and additional hours added at the peak of summer. www.matthewsfarmersmarket.com.

The Mecklenburg County Market, 1515 Harding Place. It’s tiny but active: The little market dates to the 1920s and was the original organized farmers market in this area, with bakers, a produce stand and locally made vegan and vegetarian foods. It’s still open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays.

7th Street Public Market, 224 E. Seventh St. at 7th Street Station (also a Lynx stop). After opening in late 2011 as a public/private initiative, this has become an uptown center for locally made food products as well as shopping. It includes several restaurants, the Meat & Fish Co., bakeries including Cloud Nine Confections, a coffee bar and a wine shop. Parking is free if you take your ticket inside and stamp it. Find events, vendors and hours at www.7thstreetpublicmarket.com.

Kathleen is the Observer’s food editor.
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