Lincoln farmers' market enchants

It was threatening rain last week at the Lincoln County Farmers' Market in Denver. Held on Saturdays in the parking lot of Rock Springs Elementary School, the market features vendors of local produce, baked goods and crafts.

One of the first booths is practically overrun with fresh and dried herbs, interesting plants with even more interesting names, and a friendly vendor named Vida - her farmers market name.

Vida has fresh balsam, cleome, chamomile and oregano, including one huge potted oregano that's almost too pretty to eat, and dried morning glory, columbine and dill.

A specialty at her booth is heirloom varieties, some more than 100 years old, passed from one grower to another. One melampodium, a tall flower with yellow blossoms the size of a quarter, is from a strain at least 85 years old that Vida obtained years ago from a roadside grower.

The sense of sharing comes naturally to the vendors and the farmers' market regulars. Vida's rusty pickup sports a sign requesting empty flower pots, and a customer drops off a bagful as the clouds gather. Another man stops by with his dog. When he gets some free time, he's going to return to work on that rust.

Follow your nose from Vida's booth to her next-door neighbor, Lineberger's Berry Hill Farm, which sells strawberries, along with strawberry and blackberry cider. In a couple of weeks, says vendor Ethan Lineberger, they'll have blackberries and raspberries. In July, there will be peaches. The Linebergers have two farms, one outside Lincolnton and one near Gastonia.

Most of the farmers travel to the Denver market from Lincolnton or other areas of the county. Most, too, do their farming part-time as supplemental income.

"This is my golf game," said Jason Fortenberry, who sells fresh produce, free-range eggs and several varieties of goat's milk soap, including a coffee-scented bar. Fortenberry estimates he spends four to five hours after work each evening tending his farm in Pumpkin Center.

For Becky and Jerry Roseman, preparing for the weekly market also takes a lot of time. They sell several flavors of pound cake - Sun Drop, Orange Crush and chocolate - along with fresh-baked breads. But the time they spend getting ready for the big day pays off: One Saturday, they sold out in just two hours, with regular orders secured for the season.

Just down from the Rosemans is Tommy Short of Maiden. A master exhibiter with the American Bantam Association, Short's "Cathouse" Bantam Farm is home to several varieties of leghorns and Monkiti, the farm's namesake cat. On rainy days, Short makes wooden stepstools and serving trays with whimsical paintings of roosters and catfish.

Other artisans at the market have planters and plant stands and hand-sewn goods. Vida of Vida's Garden spends her rainy days making baby bonnets, which she displays next to the dried herbs.

Not long after the market opens this particular day, it begins to rain. Although most of the vendors tuck their goods a little closer under their tents, most are prepared.

And even if you don't spend any money, a trip to the Denver farmers market is worth it in just about any weather.