LUMBERTON — Local farmers connected with local cooks Saturday morning at the Robeson County Cooperative Extension’s eight annual Farmers Market Extravaganza.
The weather was excellent, and there could not have been a better moment in the growing season for the Extravaganza, noted Christy Strickland, Extension director.
“Why is this the perfect time for an Extravaganza?” Strickland said. “Because the good stuff of summer is coming out of the field right now.”
The market, which is located on Elm Street between Eighth and Ninth streets, is open Wednesday and Saturday mornings during growing season. All the produce is locally grown, and almost all of it is locally eaten.
Epps Farms near Maxton had a truckload of peaches and cream sweet corn priced at $16 for a bag of 66 ears. Joseph Epps said Robesonians still put up corn in the freezer.
“We sell a lot of bags,” Epps said. “A lot of people come to the farm to pick theirs up.
“We’ve been doing this for the better part of 70 years or more,” he said. “My grandmother was doing it before I was born.”
Despite some cool weather in early spring, tomatoes are ripening on the vine at the Jackson Farm near St. Pauls. Daniel Jackson grows a variety called Celebrity, which when sliced makes a good tomato sandwich.
“I should have an abundance of tomatoes right on,” Jackson said. “Next Saturday, I’ll have watermelons and cantaloupes too.”
Like all these farmers, Jackson is an entrepreneur. He is building a large roadside stand this summer.
Customers like Ron Brown of Lumberton have their own strategies for shopping at the Farmers Market. He was empty handed at the moment and explained.
“I survey the entire market, then I buy,” said Brown, who is a regular at the market. “You can’t buy better vegetables than you get here.”
Lenore Taylor, another regular, was looking for some new potatoes and string beans.
“I come every Saturday and Wednesday, too,” Taylor said. “I always go home with something. This is one of my favorites places.”
Henry Elsea spent the last three weeks volunteering with the Brethren, who are rehabilitating flood-damaged homes in North Carolina and South Carolina. The Brethren’s cooks have been shopping the Farmers Market regularly, but Elsea was on another mission.
“I am taking this corn back to Virginia,” he said. “It will be three more weeks before our corn at home is ready.”
The bounty of summer was on display everywhere at the market. The market is more than 30 years old, and city and county leaders are considering a move to a city-owned parking lot in the middle of the downtown.
“There is room for the market and parking,” said Mac Johnson, a horticulturist for the Cooperative Extension. “The only issue I’ve heard is there is no shade.”
Another regular at the market is Locklear Farms in Pembroke. Patricia McKinnon was putting sweet corn on display on the tailgate of a truck.
“Yes, this corn is great,” McKinnon said. “I came out of a family of 16, so I know how it’s done. I really enjoy this.”
Backberries and blueberries were plentiful and peaches are just coming on. Farmsland at Parkton had a few late strawberries, which sold quickly.
Farmsland had vegetables too, but its money crop has four legs. The Parkton farm is raising grass-fed Hertford cows and sells packaged beef to retailers and at the market.
“We have about 50 cows at any time in our herd,” said Cindy Herndon. “We’ve been raising beef for 35 years, but we just got our meat handlers license two years ago.”
On this morning, the main attraction was coming hot of the grill as Cooperative Extension agent Shea DeJarnette cooked pizzas, sweet corn, frittatas, scalloped potatoes and blueberry cobblers. Hungry shoppers lined up for free food.
“Everything we are cooking was locally grown and donated by the farmers here,” DeJarnette said.
There was a nice breeze, but Janice Fields, the Extension Service’s agent for family and consumer science, was cooking vegetarian quesadillas over a hot stove.
“We’re giving out recipe cards for everything we’re making today,” Fields said. “We dare serving some traditional fare as well as something a little different.”
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]