South Charlotte

Atherton Mill and Market born out of quest for fresh food

Lynn Shanklin Caldwell did not appreciate the bounty of her grandparents’ farms until she no longer had access to it.

When Caldwell left her childhood home in Rock Hill for college at Georgia Institute of Technology in 1984, she said “finding good, fresh food was a struggle.”

That struggle led her to become an advocate for fresh, local food and propelled her to the forefront of Charlotte’s food scene.

“My evolving passion is to inspire others not only to eat local, and support local farmers, but to figure out what their role is in the world and how they are going to make a difference,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell’s role as an advocate is still evolving.

She is on the experts’ panel of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council, and is an active member of Slow Food Charlotte and the Piedmont Culinary Guild. She also oversees Atherton Mill and Market, a year-round community market in the South End.

Caldwell, 48, said she appreciated the “thoughtfully prepared dinner(s)” her mother used to make. She realized through dorm life and then living in Charlotte in the late 1980s and early 1990s that “there was no real access to fresh foods.”

That changed, however, when Caldwell moved to Seattle while working for Microsoft.

“There was so much fresh food,” she says. “There were lots of community markets and supper clubs.”

Caldwell married David Caldwell in 1999 and moved back to Charlotte that same year. But she again had difficulty finding the fresh, organic food she wanted for her family, which includes son Franklin, 14, and daughter Lucy, 11.

When her children were in preschool, Caldwell apprenticed at an urban farm; she soon learned, though, that she was not a farmer.

While weeding and hoeing with Sara Fennel, the owner of the urban farm on which Caldwell apprenticed, Caldwell hatched a plan to open an urban farmers market in Plaza-Midwood.

In 2010, she partnered with EDENS, a property manager who owns the property near the trolley line in South End, to create and run a community market. Atherton Mill and Market opened with 22 vendors; it now has 35. Caldwell also brings in seasonal artisans, such as those who produce and sell holiday-themed gifts.

The market is open five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday. But the schedule and the layout of the market will undergo an overhaul at the start of 2015.

“We are going to redesign so that vendors can operate more cooperatively and so we can have more diversity,” Caldwell said. “We also recognize that our current hours don’t reflect convenience for the customers.

“I function as a connector in our community – connecting people to their food, to themselves and to each other. And that is my greatest joy.”