Meet me at the Farmer's Market

In an era of waxed fruit, irradiated tomatoes and killer spinach, more and more people are drifting away from over-processed commercial foods and getting back to their roots. Thanks to a group of proactive citizens, every Thursday, from 2-6 p.m., starting May 1, Lowcountry residents and visitors will have a convenient source of homegrown options as the new-and-improved Bluffton Farmers' Market gets underway. In progress for the past year and a half, according to key organizer, Diane Fornari, the goal is to bring together 20-30 vendors, including area farmers, organic growers and cottage industries, with an emphasis on food and healthy living, not crafts.

Picture a place where families and friends will gather to enjoy the freshest, healthiest food in town along with live music, friendly conversation and a sense of community. While getting to know the growers, soaking up the atmosphere and stocking up on just-picked produce to take home, market goers can fill up on fresh, prepared food on site. In addition, area healthcare providers will be on hand to provide information and screening services, and non profits will be given the opportunity to share their resources.

"I think people like to feel that they are a part of something," said Diane, who sees the farmers' market as a way of getting people to reconnect. "We want people to walk away feeling pride in their community and somewhat happier and healthier for attending the event."

The seed of the project was planted in 2006 when Amanda Manning, former publisher of Edible Lowcountry, came to the VanLandingham Rotary Club to speak on locally produced foods and sustainable living. Inspired by the talk, Diane struck up a conversation with fellow Rotarian, Ed McCullough, and the two began recruiting like-minded people to help support a grassroots movement toward a new farmers' market.

The initial plan was to locate the market on Hilton Head Island. Diane had heard that there was an existing farmers' market on the island, but quickly discovered that it was limited to one producer and was held inside the mall. Envisioning a much more expansive open-air market, she and Ed began exploring the possibilities. As development restrictions and other obstacles closed doors on the island, Bluffton opened its arms. The new market will be located at Oyster Factory Park on Wharf Street.

With the assistance of the Clemson University Extension services, a few farmers have sold their produce weekly in Bluffton for several years. The location has varied. Working closely with Beaufort County senior extension agent, York Glover, Diane and Ed are seeking to expand that market by recruiting more and varied producers, food vendors and entertainers, thus creating a consistent and vibrant marketplace.

According to Diane, the off-island location is logistically more appealing to the farmers who will be coming from various parts of Beaufort County, including St. Helena Island and Pinckney Colony. It will serve islanders, as well as the large permanent population in Bluffton, Sun City and surrounding areas and is sure to be a popular destination for visitors.
Modeled after the successful market in Mt. Pleasant, the Bluffton Farmers' Market aims to become a community centering point. "We are taking the Bluffton Market as it has existed, using that core and inserting the energy and interest to help it grow into a significant community event," said Diane.

Be the change you want to see in the world!

While there are many advantages to shopping at farmers' markets (not the least of which is superior quality and taste) the broader reaching benefit is the collective effort to save our precious resources. Internationally known organic farmer and activist, Dirk Becker, encourages consumers to "make the connection between the choices they are making."

By keeping local farms viable, regional open space is maintained and fuel for transport is conserved. Buying from local producers and businesses keeps dollars re-circulating throughout the region, which stimulates the local economy. It's a win-win situation for consumers, farmers, our community and our world. Think globally, act locally, and help reduce our footprint on this planet.

Watch us grow!

Diane Fornari cautions that the market is a work in progress and all amenities will not be in full service upon opening. Urging people to come out and get a taste for it but not to be disappointed, local producers expect to provide the following in May: strawberries, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, flowers, herbs and plants.

"As the season continues, there will be more to offer. It's going to develop into something we're all going to love," said Fornari.

Get All Excited!

Organizers are seeking vendors, entertainers, chefs, volunteers and others who are interested in helping promote the weekly event. Everyone is invited to attend and enjoy the festivities. Gather your friends and family, spread the word, and make a healthy choice. For more information, call Diane Fornari at 843-785-7341.

See you at the Bluffton Farmers' Market on May 1st!

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