Technology has transformed our interaction with life. Thanks to iPads, smartphones and 3G, we can access it from anywhere – and that we do. An occasional return to nature may be just what we need to reconnect with each other and the simple joys of life. Two area farmers markets present the perfect escape, reconnecting visitors to their community roots.In this challenging economy, customers band together to support their local farmers, contributing to a healthy pantry in the process. While pressures at work or children’s activities make life feel like a never-ending checklist, stepping into the dirt path at the local farmers market can be a refreshing change of pace. Join people from all walks of life, and breathe in the vibrant scent of freshly picked fruits and vegetables, the bright produce ranging across the color spectrum. On Saturdays, stop by Newell Farmers Market, open 8 a.m. to noon, off Rocky River Road in Charlotte. Or if weekdays are better, take some time on Mondays to check out the Piedmont Farmers Market in Harrisburg, open 4-7 p.m. During the visit, take some extra time to peruse other offerings on site: the recently renovated historic post office, the model train tracks, and a community log cabin being restored by volunteers.Homegrown vegetablesNancy Newton grew tired of driving 30 minutes to her closest farmers market to get fresh, locally grown food. So in 2003, she donated the use of her property to host Newell Farmers Market where she works her farm and promotes healthy eating. “We were really interested in knowing what we were eating, where it came from and how it was being grown,” said Debbie Zufall, Newton’s daughter, who is also involved in the family market venture. Newell, where both the market and Newton’s garden are located, is a historic area known in the 19th century for its cotton, corn and tobacco farms along Old Concord Road, according to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg government study of the area. The community is bounded by North Tryon Street to the west, University City Boulevard and McLean Road to the north, John Russell and Rocky River Roads to the east, and Grier Road and Orr Road to the south.Zoning issues set the Newell Farmers Market back for a number of years, but it reopened in 2009.“The county is working hard to tweak some regulations so that there is more local, fresh food available to people in the Charlotte area,” Newton says. “That’s a good thing.” So every Saturday through the season, the open-air pavilion will house tables lined with vegetables, jams and jellies as well as meat and dairy from local live stock producers.The market has experienced continual growth each year as word gets out. Newton says that in the current economy, many families can’t afford to pay the higher prices at some farmers markets. “We work very hard to keep our prices as low as possible so that people can afford it,” she says.History revisitedOn Monday afternoons and early evening, at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Robinson Church Road in Harrisburg, visitors can connect with their rural past. The farmers market shares space with the Harrisburg Post Office and Store, a restored building that served as the town’s Republican post office in the early 1900s. After being donated to the town by its owner, the building was moved to its current location just off the main railroad tracks in 2005.After walking up the historic steps, visitors can sign the running guest list before touring the rich content donated by Harrisburg natives. Pictures, books, and artifacts line the walls, and a large train bell sits in the middle of the room waiting to be sounded by excited children. Ted McCachren, who grew up in Harrisburg during years the post office was still open, heads up the renovation projects. One hundred feet away another project is brewing as committed volunteers renovate a historic log cabin that they believe to be 150 years old. Upon completion, it will be decorated with furniture true to its past and open for public tours. One volunteer, Dick Lewis, enjoys watching families come out to enjoy the scenery. “You will see a lot of parents with children, enjoying the outdoors,” he says. “You’ll see grandfathers with their grandkids sitting at the picnic tables watching the trains pass.”Just a few yards away another set of smaller, model train tracks circle the market. They are used by Triad Live Steamers, a non-profit hobby club that builds model size trains. Every Monday during the Farmers Market season, they offer rides for men and women of all ages. Dan Foltz, founder of the club, says their oldest rider was 92.“It brings a lot of people out to the Farmers Market,” Foltz says. “It’s a way to keep the children entertained.”Local businesses on displayAfter strolling through the post office, step out to the open-air market highlighting local businesses - Barbee Farms, Post Pasta and Pastry, and Seafood Guy, among many others. Kate Brun, a vendor and owner of Lucky Leaf Gardens, is thrilled by the growing response to the market. Having grown up on the west coast where farmers markets were a way of life, she was disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm when she and her husband moved here. Six years later, she is amazed. “We’re finally catching on. The parking lot is full, and it’s just a good turnout,” says Brun on a recent Monday. Brun, one of the only food producers in Harrisburg and a member of the Cabarrus County Food Policy Council, believes the market is an important part of their community. “Being present there is really important to me and my community,” she says. “I want to be there to represent what Harrisburg has to offer.”She also views the market as a great way to build relationships. A lot of people use the time to catch up, she says. Many visitors make it a date, walking hand-in-hand with their significant other. For others, it’s a family affair, and their children wander clutching dollar bills to pick out their favorite fruit. Some enter the market alone and enjoy the smiles of the vendors and passersby.With almost a dozen vendors, there is plenty to choose from. Fill up a basket or reusable grocery bag with cucumbers, tomatoes and onions picked that morning. If you are in a culinary rut, the abundant choices may inspire you to experiment with healthy, fresh dishes.Set aside some time to put down the technology and pick up a woven basket as you head out to your local farmers market. Enjoy the rich history, the fresh food and the closer relationships they have to offer.
There’s more to comeLucky Leaf Gardens, one of the vendors at the Piedmont Farmers market in Harrisburg, is breaking ground on a unique type of greenhouse. Kate Brun will grow microgreens out of the 2,400 square foot space on Hilliard Lane, just outside the Harrisburg lines. Brun started Lucky Leaf Gardens in a 400-square-foot back yard greenhouse at her Harrisburg home. One year later, her clientele includes farmers markets and over 30 local restaurants. Microgreens are the shoots of vegetables and herbs, Brun says, that are grown and harvested each week. “They are said to be a very high concentration of the same vitamins and minerals you find in the adult plan, but all the nutrients are packed into this shoot,” she says. “The fiber and the calories aren’t there, but the nutrients are there.”When asked about the reason for such rapid growth, Brun answered, “It’s believing in what we have and hitting the streets.” For more information, check out www.luckyleafgardens.com or call 704-773-9355. Want to go?Harrisburg Farmers Market6960 Robinson Church Rd., HarrisburgOpen Mondays, 4 - 7pmhttp://www.piedmont-farmersmarket.com/the_harrisburg_marketThe Old Post Office & General Store and Triad Live Steamers are open to the public during farmers market hours and by appointment.Newell Farmers Market1704 Rocky River Road, CharlotteOpen Saturdays, 8am - noonhttp://newellfarmersmarket.com