South Charlotte

Waxhaw market gains popularity, customers

"The little market and how it grew" is the working title for today's feature on the Waxhaw Farmers Market.

It has come a long way, starting as a couple of local vegetable growers in a field - now an AutoZone - in 2005.

I've gotten to know a few of the pioneers and watch the metamorphosis from farm stand to regular Saturday morning destination for more than 500 consumers.

Bill Makuch and his wife, Donna, were among the original vendors. Bill is this year's market association president. We talked last month about where things are headed.

"The Waxhaw Farmers Market lineup of vendors has never been better or more diverse," he said. "It lists many farmers growing essentially everything this area can offer, as well as bakers, eggs, beef, chicken, pork, cheese, soaps, flowers, honey and even Alpaca fiber."

"We are no longer just a collection of independent vendors," Makuch said. "Instead, one of our 2011 goals is to collectively become the consumer's choice for really fresh, really local food.

"The market is committed to being a pleasant Saturday morning venue where you can have a cup of coffee or tea and talk to the people growing your food, people who know your name."

Makuch says he sees a knowledgeable group of vendors who believe in the diversity of what the area can produce, as well as the consumer's right to understand how their food is produced.

I made a trip to the market on the first Saturday in June to see for myself, and I am pleased to report his vision is reality.

At 9:30 a.m. or so, there were about 10 people waiting to pay Bill and Donna for fresh produce. I chatted with several other vendors.

Kathy Randazzo was presiding over a display of fresh baked goods at Country Villa. She told me she specializes in country baking and uses some old family recipes.

Next door to Kathy, I renewed my acquaintance with Lara Whittaker and her son James. Their business, Loaves and Honey, focuses on homemade breads and local honey, which James collects from area farmers. James has grown about a head taller than when I met him two years ago. Entrepreneurship starts early in the Whittaker household.

The same can be said for several other family businesses that sell at the farmers market.

At the Flanagan's Bread stand, Ray Flanagan introduced me to his son, Aidan, who was helping his dad. I asked Ray how this season was shaping up for him, and he told me Flanagan's now bakes 65 kinds of bread and they were using more than 100 pounds of flour a week.

My usual favorite vendors, Bosky Acres goat cheese and Caroline Porter, reported they sell out of favorite items every week.

That would have been dreadful news from Porter had I been on my normal mission to score one of her sour-cream pound cakes; they were all gone by 9:30 a.m. Fortunately, we had frozen half the cake we bought the week before.

Gladys Hudson and Rubie Adkins were tending the coffee booth. They were there on behalf of the Union County Master Gardener program and were volunteering for the local growers and to benefit the market. They also were offering Waxhaw Farmers Market logo merchandise.

Conversation is at least half the reward for going to the market. I had a delightful talk with Megan Hancock of Family of 4 Berries, who turned me on to the combination of basil and blueberries in the same scone.

Dale Nelson completed my education on the benefits of eating grass-fed beef and sold me some local bacon that proved amazing when served on a slice of locally baked bread with an organic tomato from Creekside Farms.

I learned that there are beehives on the top of the Ritz-Carlton and Johnson & Wales University buildings in uptown Charlotte.

The success of the Waxhaw Farmers market is an example of how the "locally-grown" movement is spreading.

Makuch said, "Local food is truly better for many reasons. Not only is it fresher and more nutritious, but it also uses less oil, causes less pollution and keeps the consumer's dollar here within our local community.

"We may not be the area's largest market, but please remember, the best things usually come in small packages."