University City

Farmers market opens for another year

During the week Nancy Newton helps run the aviation consulting firm she owns with her husband.

But on Saturday mornings from now until October, she can be found thumping melons at the end of Rocky River Road for the community of Newell.

Newell Farmers Market, run by the Newton family, opened for its third season in a row this weekend, and with crops looking good so far, the community will have plenty of fresh produce for each month from now until well into the fall.

"Everything is thriving and looks great," said Newton. "All these things in the ground and corn coming up. We have sweet potatoes, several kinds of beans. We have okra, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, watermelon."

As each fruit or vegetable ripens, they'll make their way to the tables on the market, where nearly 200 people will touch, squeeze and thump between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. before making their choices.

Often, they'll ask Newton to select an item for them, especially the melons. "I thump them," she tells them. "If its get this hollow sound, they're generally ready to eat."

Newton doesn't come from a long line of farmers - far from it, she said. "There's not much history. We have never farmed any land here, except for our personal use. We are just very much into healthy eating, and we've done a lot of reading and research and classes and hit-and-miss trials to get the best product."

The family bought 13 acres of land off Rocky River Road in 1995 and dedicated 2.5 acres to the farmers market.

For the last few years, they have shared with the locals.

"The community had urged us to do it. We had the space, so we decided to do it," said Newton, who served on the Newell Community Study Group, part of the Newell Area Plan, which was adopted by the Charlotte City Council in 2002. The group's research showed a desire for a local farmers market.

Besides produce, the market invites other area farmers to share their goods. Local beef, chicken and pork come from Hodges Dairy Farm down the road and Creekside Farms in Mt. Pleasant. Butter, eggs and cheeses come from Cackleberry Farms in Concord.

Newton said they work hard to make sure the customers find everything they need. "We really try to anticipate what the market's going to be," she said. "We keep records of what we're selling, what seems to sell well, and what doesn't."

Mostly, it's the staples locals come to buy. "Always tomatoes and corn," she said. And beans. Everyone wanted beans last summer.

"Last year was a very bad year for beans, all over the state," said Newton. "Our beans didn't do well and no one else's beans did well."

In a month, beans will make their way to the market's tables, where, Newton said, they should be in better supply. "They do look good. We're keeping our fingers crossed."

It seems, like corn, tomatoes and beans, Newell Farmers Market is slowly growing into a staple, itself, for the community.