Growing Excitement

BY Laura Rectenwald

Among the many reasons to get excited about spring on the Azalea Coast is the opening of our local farmers’ markets. With the warming of the weather comes the fresh delicious produce — sold directly by the growers — that is synonymous with our region. Farmers (and artists) gather weekly to sell their produce (and artwork) to eager shoppers wanting to buy without a middle man. From fresh fish to designer fashions two things are true of the farmers’ market: There’s never a dull moment and you’ll probably never see the same thing twice.

Take a stroll down Water Street in Historic Downtown Wilmington on Saturday mornings in the spring and summer months and you’ll hear the sounds of live music vendors giving tips on how to grow fresh herbs and children begging their parents to take them to see the “Blue Egg Lady.” Stroll under the shade trees at the Poplar Grove Farmers’ Market on Wednesday mornings for your mid-week fix of produce and crafts. The farm animals are sure to keep you entertained.

The farmers’ markets of our area are ripe with fresh fruits and vegetables fragrant herbs savory seafood unique arts and crafts and plenty of entertainment. It’s nearly impossible to leave empty-handed. And while you’re enjoying all of the splendors the markets offer you’ll be happy to know that you’re also helping our local economy eating fresher healthier food and soaking up the sunshine.

The Riverfront Farmers’ Market of Downtown Wilmington is going into its fourth year and every year it’s seen growth — not only in the number of farmers and artists but in those who make the trip to the riverfront to enjoy it.

Dick and Bea Poissant come every week to enjoy the views and mingle with the community. “It’s so refreshing not to be hassled while buying fruits and vegetables. We never leave without buying a bouquet of flowers fresh herbs and produce ” says Bea. “Everything just tastes better not to mention it’s good exercise walking up and down the street looking at all of the goodies.”

Wilmington residents aren’t the only ones enjoying the goods. Toni Stanton has been sending jars of Angela’s Pepper-Pickled Foods to friends and relatives in Atlanta Georgia for years. “My son-in-law likes spicy foods so for every birthday and Christmas I come down here to the farmers’ market to buy a bunch to send to him and everyone else who has come to love them ” Stanton says. “They are fabulous.”

When Angela Cannon of Angela’s Pepper-Pickled Foods needed a way to preserve large quantities of fresh okra green beans and cucumbers her pickling company was born. Why is Angela’s Pepper-Pickled Foods so popular? For starters Angela’s produce is hand-packed in small batches ensuring premium quality and it comes in Mild Getting Hotter and Hot — depending on the pepper. The jars also make gorgeous decorations for the home.

Someone else who keeps people coming back to the riverfront is the “Blue Egg Lady ” Mary Ann Olsen of Olsen Gardens. The large blue eggs are from a certain breed of chicken the Araucana and have extra-large yolks. Kevin and Diane O’Grady walk from Nunn Street to the riverfront every week to visit Olsen. “[Her blue eggs] have the biggest yolks we’ve ever seen. We just love them ” says Diane. Olsen Gardens also offers goat cheese soft-shell crab and even goat soap for dogs.

For those with a green thumb Elizabeth Todd nicknamed “E.T. Toad ” sells her plantings pottery and natural creations. “I garden for a living but what’s unique about my yard is that I don’t use electricity chemicals or fertilizers ” says Todd. “Everything is greener and healthier this way.” Todd welcomes wildlife into her yard. Dragonflies and on occasion aggressive snapping turtles have left her with stories she’s happy to share.

Besides the fresh produce and crafts there are other factors that have contributed to the success of the Riverfront Farmers’ Market. For one thing the city of Wilmington has supported it from the beginning and is committed to its progress. “The farmers are busy enough ” says R.T. Jones senior recreation coordinator for Wilmington Parks Recreation and Downtown Services. “It’s rare for a city to be a sponsor and run the farmers’ market and our involvement and support has definitely contributed to its success. We know that the farmers’ market is strengthening the local economy and is more environmentally friendly.”

The bottom line is: Fresher is better for everyone. Besides being picked early produce found in supermarkets can travel for miles by truck or train before reaching its destination while vendors at the farmers’ markets bring the food right to you straight from their local farm.

“The strength of our farmers’ market is the quality and variety of product ” says Jones. “The setting is part of the ambiance — the river the sun and Historic Downtown Wilmington.”

The Poplar Grove Farmers’ Market is fresh on the scene and although it’s just beginning its second year it already has some regulars eager for the season to start. Since many of the vendors sell their goods at both markets people can come to Poplar Grove on Wednesday mornings from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. starting April 9 to get their fix. At Poplar you’ll find everything from hand-blown glass beads to photography landscaping vines goat cheese honey seafood and much more.

“You’ll see some of the same vendors that you’ll see at the riverfront and you’ll see different ones. On a weekly basis we have 30 to 40 vendors ” says B.J. Ryan market manager for the Poplar Grove Farmers’ Market. “It’s great to be able to meet the people that are growing catching and selling their food.”

Tammy Garris of Rocky Point Candle Co. is doing her part to help the environment by handmaking and selling the company’s soy-blend candles. “Not only do they burn better and smell better but they’re better for the environment too ” says Garris who also does private labeling on their products.

Cynthia Tucker of Sea of Glass Bead Jewelry Designs makes her own glass beads with a torch. Colored glass rods are melted and wound onto a steel rod (called a mandrel) forming their own holes. Her Chinese silk choker pendants have become all the rage along with her jewelry made with colored silk ribbons.

Marie and Rene Pare shop at both Wilmington markets throughout the season. Marie says she feels they are contributing to the local economy helping the environment and improving their health — not to mention that she enjoys every minute of it. “Shopping [at our farmers’ markets] isn’t really shopping ” says Rene “it’s an experience of meeting the growers intermingling with people who want to put fresher foods on their table and sharing resources.” We couldn’t have said it better.

Fresh Recipes

Okra Hors d’oeuvre

Recipe courtesy of Angela Cannon Angela’s Pepper-Pickled Foods

Pickled okra
Your favorite deli meat or a soft tortilla
Cream cheese

Spread cream cheese on either your favorite deli meat or soft tortilla. Lay one whole pickled okra on top of the cream cheese. Roll and slice into ¼-inch slices. Stick a toothpick in each piece and enjoy!

Feta Shrimp Pasta

Based on recipe from Bill and Tina Moller Nature’s Way

1 (16-ounce) package uncooked angel hair pasta
2 tablespoons garlic infused olive oil
2 tablespoons diced onion
4 ounces crumbled goat feta cheese
½ pound medium locally caught shrimp peeled and deveined
Handful of chopped spinach
2 tomotoes chopped

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Place the pasta in the pot and cook until al dente (about four minutes). Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Place onion in the skillet and cook until tender. Stir in shrimp and cook three minutes (or until opaque). Mix in the feta cheese spinach and tomatoes. Toss with the pasta serve and enjoy!

Getting to Market

Riverfront Farmers’ Market – Downtown Wilmington
Saturday mornings starting April 19 – December 20
8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. • (910) 520-6875

Poplar Grove Farmers’ Market
Wednesday mornings starting April 9
8 a.m. – 1 p.m. •

Landfall Farmers’ Market
Landfall residents only
April 25 May 16 June 20 • (910) 256-8411