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Monday, May 2, 2016

Salem Farmer's Market off to great start

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Five vendors and lots of shoppers got the first ever Salem Farmer's Market off to a good start on Saturday, May 12. The market will be held on Saturdays from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., on Pickren Street, the west side of the square. See the story in the column to the right. Photo by Richard Irby [Order this photo]
By 7 a.m. on Saturday, May 12, Pickren Street on the west side of the Salem square was closed to traffic, and the first-ever Salem Farmer's Market was ready to begin.

There weren't any marching bands or ribbon cuttings or speeches to mark the occasion.

In fact, the market's start was very modest. Mennonite farmer, Donnie Headings, had a nice display of flowers and potted plants to sell, along with some onions and broccoli he'd grown. Woodcarver and gardener Michael Quataert had some plants and art work to sell, and the Master Gardeners had a table set up to sign up new vendors they hoped were on their way.

About 7:10 a.m., the farmer's market had its first customer -- Shaun Windsor of Salem.

"I'm trying to eat healthier and live a healthier lifestyle," Windsor said, as he bought some of Headings' onions and broccoli. "I hope this catches on. It would be good to have a structured event like this each week people could count on."

A few minutes later, a truck loaded with huge heads of lettuce and other produce pulled in. Vendor number three -- Warren Newman of Greasy Creek Farms -- immediately began setting up shop, putting beets and carrots and onions, cucumbers and tomatoes on a table.

"We began growing in the greenhouse, but the broccoli, lettuce and onions were grown outside," Newman said, a nod to the fact a mild winter has produce coming on earlier than usual.

Newman said he didn't know what to expect this first market day, but he was optimistic.

"I hope people come and it takes off," Newman said. "They have a good one (market) in Mountain Home. It does well, and this one could too when it gets established."

Salem resident Gail Plumlee was the next vendor to arrive with some herbs, greens, kale and other treats packed into her little Jeep-like vehicle.

"I'm here to meet people who are interested in growing things," Plumlee said as she sat in a chair waiting for customers to visit with. "I want people to realize that, if you nurture the earth, the earth nurtures you."

Things really got interesting when a clopping of hooves announced the Amish were coming. They set up three sales areas -- one for strawberries, one for baked goods and fried pies, and a large booth where Vernon Borntrager had more strawberries, onions, lettuce, English peas, radishes, a strange looking plant called kohlrabi and tomato plants and flowers.

"I should have tomatoes next week," Borntrager announced as he set up. "I had three I probably could have picked today."

With five vendors in place, Pickren Street started looking like a real farmers market, especially when a steady stream of people started stopping by to check out the wares and mingle in the street, talking to vendors and other shoppers.

Two couples engrossed in conversation, Mike and Anita Walsh and Jim and Becci Bartz, were neighbors who rarely see each other.

Anita Walsh declared the farmer's market, "absolutely a good thing." Walsh was accustomed to a much larger market in Conway, where she used to live. "Like here, it brought people out you don't ordinarily see, and a good farmer's market has all kinds of good things to choose from."

One of the best customers of the day was Mike Yates. The Church of Christ minister, who heads the Salem Farmer's Market committee, was supposed to be monitoring the first sales day, but could be seen lugging bag after bag of produce to his vehicle.

"I love this stuff," Yates said. "You know it's fresh and you know where it came from."

As for the market itself, "This is just how I hoped it would be," Yates said. "Vendors have found their way here and people have heard about it and are showing up, so it's just kind of running itself."

The farmer's market has four banners to put up on market day, but there is no advertising budget to get the word out. Word of mouth apparently took over after several newspaper and radio reports announced the location and hours of opening day.

"I am so glad people are here," said Melba Arrington, who brought her daughter, Diane Keith, of Magnolia, Ark., to opening day. "This is something we've needed. I hope it continues to grow."

The organizing committee has identified at least 10 potential vendors, and expects the number to continue to grow -- including more arts and craftspeople.

The farmer's market will set up again on Saturday, May 19, on Pickren Street, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. On May 26, it will take a break to make way for Homecoming Festival activities, then resume Saturday hours through the fall.

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