Surry, Virginia: Mid-morning shoppers tasted the homemade jams, scrunched the newly-sheared wool, tried to pass by tables of freshly baked cakes and muffins, unsuccessfully, and felt a bit healthier when taking home bags of turnip greens and kale. – Oh, and a 50-cent cup of Abigail’s lemonade.
Saturday marked the opening day of the Surry Community Farmer’s Market, and, as vendors and customers agree, the weekly gathering of local products and people couldn’t start soon enough. Following last year’s success, vendors set up their temptations right off of Rolfe Highway, catching ferry traffic and gardeners from Farmer Joe’s. And as Michelle Taylor, vendor and Saturday’s market manager, explained, the group applied geographic strategy.
“Location, location, location,” Taylor laughed. Outside of selling homemade breads from her market booth, she carried the responsibility of who, where, and when for the day. “We want people to support their neighbors, to support their community,” she shared.
Taylor credited the dedication shown by each member of the community group for pulling their own weight, yet, still working as a team. With 20 volunteers currently joining agricultural forces, all will eventually serve as a market manager. She noted, “We’ll cycle it around so one person doesn’t hold all the cards.” And on opening day, the planning paid off.
Bob Richardson, arriving from just outside Waverly, stayed busy selling fresh vegetables ranging from Swiss chard to bok choy. “Today the turnips went fast, and the curly kale is gone,” reflected the grower as he moved his spinach out of direct sunlight. “My next crops to come in are green peas in another two or three weeks.” Although weeds seem to create a constant threat, the vendor explained that he’s won the battle by scaling back and starting his vegetables on a sun porch and then moving the more protected farm to nature’s open land.
Richardson and his wife, Karen, relocated from James City County to an 1854 farmhouse with lots of land to maintain. His collection of crops sold at the community market only roots in a small amount of acreage. The grower explained that he foresees the rest of his property as becoming a tool for future farmers. “I’m trying to get what we call a farmer incubator program started.” And considering that Richardson already owns a tractor and farming equipment, all he needs are people who aren’t afraid of dirt. “We’d like to help new farmers get established,” said the inspired vendor.
Crystal Jones finds inspiration in the kitchen, not on a farm. Another vendor, born and raised in Surry, brought her mother’s recipes to the market in the form of desserts, or, depending on your appetite, a scrumptious lunch. She explained that she kept the family catering business running once her mother retired from the demanding job. Now, Jones bakes anything from apple jacks to corn pudding for customers looking to buy local.
“These are my mom’s famous rolls, and I use her recipe,” she pointed with a smile of success. As most cooks discover, baking rolls takes true talent. “We have three-layered homemade pineapple cake, and we have homemade butter pound cake as well.” Maybe after a serving of curly kale?
Yet, both Jones and Richardson faced some healthy competition from Abigail Upton’s lemonade stand, set up under her family’s tent of tomato plants and fresh eggs. The 9-year-old third grader handled a steady business selling homemade lemonade at 50 cents a cup to customers hoping to compliment the fresh sausage cooking a few vendors down.
Her rainbow earrings and red rain boots left several customers wide open, and this community farmer kept her selling goals in sight: money to buy an American Girl doll. “I like to play with them, and I like to play with other dolls too,” shared Abigail. So keeping the sweet and sour drink iced and ready played to her advantage, pouring eight cups before noon.
Her half-filled container, placed on a small table with a hand-written sign for publicity, created a supply of conversation as well as a pucker or two. Abigail explained her family didn’t raise hogs or cows at their Isle of Wight home, yet she quickly crunched down the numbers of other four and two-legged friends sharing her household: “Two dogs, one cat, and 21 chickens and one rooster.”
Yet, as any ambitious salesperson would do, she limited distractions and continued to push her product to a harmonious crowd. “It’s 50 cents a cup!”