Newell Market will stay open year-round

Shoppers Walter Gilewski (center) and Sue Rykens (right) check out the produce at the Newell Farmer's Market.
Shoppers Walter Gilewski (center) and Sue Rykens (right) check out the produce at the Newell Farmer's Market. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Farmers in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties don’t stop producing food in winter.

So Nancy Newton has been fighting to continue selling it all year on Saturday mornings from a house at the dead end on Rocky River Road in northeast Charlotte.

Now that’s possible, with a critical second step in a rezoning effort completed.

“There’s a lot of good food in winter,” said Newton, who with her family started the Newell Farmers Market as an outdoor farm stand 11 years ago.

She and her daughter, Debbie Zufall, sell locally produced food that is grown without chemical or antibiotics, Newton said.

The business has grown despite having to close in winter, a barricade at one end of the road, and a remote location.

The latest hurdle changed the property’s zoning category to business. This allows the family to move indoors for the winter, into a house on the property that was formerly zoned for residential use, then as office space.

With the designation for office space, the family could not sell produce from sources other than their own garden, which sits beside their seasonal farm stand.

In 2012 Newton successfully rezoned the 13 acres to business. Changing the designation for use, from office to business, was a separate process.

“If I were not stubborn and supportive, I probably would have given up a long time ago,” said Newton, who has invested thousands of dollars in addition to time to keep the market going. “It shouldn’t have to be that hard.”

Zoning hasn’t been the only obstacle. The house is located just off W.T. Harris Boulevard at the western end of Rocky River Road. There are no commercial signs on this residential street.

Getting to the market from Old Concord Road – where you can almost see it – would be easy, but that end of Rocky River is blocked at the railroad crossing. So you pretty much have to know it’s there to find it.

Her family and her customers have kept her going all these years, Newton said. Both have stayed loyal to the idea of making local food a tradition in Newell, once a rural farming community with a strong identity.

Residents of the area pulled together once again over the last decade or so to keep the Newell Post Office open on Old Concord Road. It’s still open a few days a week.

Newton and her family grow about 40 percent of the market’s produce in their 2-acre plot. The other 60 percent comes from farms in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties, Newton said.

Greenhouse tomatoes and locally produced cheeses were available on a recent visit, along with hen and duck eggs, butter, beef, pork, chicken and lamb.

There were also shiitake and cremini mushrooms, spinach, winter squashes, sweet and white potatoes in the bins. Bread and cornmeal were options, too.

Salmon and other “seafood,” which Newton describes as sustainably caught, travel farther to reach the market.

By 11:30, some of the bins were empty. No one seemed to mind.

“It’s definitely seasonal,” said Nancy Smith of Shannon Park, who has been coming to the market for five years. “You will not find a banana or a pineapple.”

This year Zufall plans to add a collection of creasy greens, which she describes as a wild watercress, as well as wild fall mustard greens and interesting varieties of melons. She calls it “old stuff that you don’t hear about anymore.”

That’s part of the fun, Zufall said. They’re free to try new things.

“We just love it, and we know we’re doing a good thing,” Newton said.

Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms

Newell Farmers Market

The market is open 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays at 1704 Rocky River Road. Information: 704-597-4384.