Kathleen Purvis

Charlotte farmers market tries a sorting-bin approach

What’s the best way to group farmers at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market – by mission, state or type of food?
What’s the best way to group farmers at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market – by mission, state or type of food? OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

I love puzzles. But I’m glad I don’t have to tackle the one Amie Newsome is trying to solve.

Newsome is the new manager of the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, the third since longtime manager Frank Suddreth left in 2012. She has inherited the job of trying to make the market work a little more smoothly.

First, let’s acknowledge this: Napoleon had battle plans that were simpler than mapping out the market, 1801 Yorkmont Road. A part of the N.C. Department of Agriculture system, it was created in the 1980s with a different plan than what it became.

With a big piece of land conveniently located between two interstates, it was supposed to be a food-service market, where tractor-trailers could pull in with big loads of food.

No one predicted the explosion in food would be small: Local production from small farms. No one expected local cheesemakers, bread bakers and small-batch sausage makers. No one guessed the biggest traffic would be household shoppers who come on Saturdays for eggs and arugula.

So the market struggles with two issues: The first is growing pains – there are more farmers/bakers/makers than there are spaces. The second is the mixed message: Resellers, who buy at other markets and set up permanent tables, rub elbows with local growers, who come only on Saturdays because they have farms to run.

So here’s Newsome’s puzzle. On April 1, just as spring cranks up and the seasonal shoppers flood back, the market will be reorganized, with vendors sorted by building.

In between interviews with vendors, while she tries to figure out who goes where, Newsome took a minute to run through the plan:

Building A, the open-air shed, will be all North Carolina growers: Fruits and vegetables, honey, farm-raised fish, livestock products like meat, cut flowers and wineries.

Building B, the enclosed building, will become “Market Shops,” with resellers and artisan crafters. Since bakers are artisans, most will be there.

Building C, the old crafts building, will become “Variety Shops,” with a mix, including South Carolina growers. Outside, there will be an area for food trucks and carts. The Greenery Building will be greenery, but also overflow, so you might find crafters there, too.

Confusing? Oh, yeah. A lettuce seller from South Carolina may be two buildings from a tomato grower from North Carolina. A cheesemaker who has goats or cows may be in Building A, while a cheesemaker who buys milk from a dairy will be in C.

Newsome is optimistic, though. She sees it as a chance to highlight N.C. growers by putting them together. And she hopes shoppers will explore more.

Some vendors, she admits, are nervous. “They have a right to be,” she said. “They’ve done something one way for a really long time.”

For shoppers, look at it this way: You’ll get more exercise on Saturday morning. And someone may do a booming business in maps.

Purvis: 704-358-5236