Can a farmers’ market be compassionate?
At the Cobblestone Farmers Markets in Winston-Salem you can count the ways.
One. All of the produce is grown without the application of pesticides. That’s good for the people who consume the produce and for the earth where it is grown.
Two. Pork, beef and lamb sold at the market come from farms that are Animal Welfare Approved, where animals are treated according to the highest standards.
Three. Each week, families eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can receive tokens that enable them to save on their purchases. For people who live in a “food desert” (no grocery nearby), this feature brings nutritious foods within reach.
Four. Both markets are on city bus routes, which makes them more accessible to people who live throughout the city. The Old Salem market is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon, and the weekday market at the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts on North Spruce Street is open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Five. Farmers and vendors who participate in the market are partners rather than competitors. They help each other unload and load on market days. One vendor recently suffered a torn tendon, and, while she is recovering, volunteers and farmer friends are helping with larger projects like shearing her sheep and unloading hay.
Six. Farmers grow intensively, using small acreage for high production.
And, there are other reasons that could be cited.
Salem Norfleet Neff, who along with her mother, Margaret Norfleet Neff, started the Old Salem Cobblestone Market in 2012. The original Tuesday market at Krankies, which was created by the Triad Buying Coop, was rebranded and became part of Cobblestone Farmers Markets. The Neffs manage both markets. A year ago, the market was listed among America’s 11 best farmers’ markets in an article in U.S. News and World Report.
“We did a feasibility study two years ago,” Salem said. “The farmers who agreed to participate had a lot of faith that it would work. They signed on in January and February and planted their crops not knowing what would happen.”
Harvey and Susan Moser of King were among the first farmers to commit as vendors. They had been growing everything chemical-free for 20 years and had seen from results at the farmers market at the King YMCA that there was a hunger for high-quality, low-processed farm-fresh foods.
In a short time, Cobblestone has developed community among vendors and among customers. Surveys show that people who frequent the farmers market have seven times more social interaction than they would at the grocery store, Salem said. Some people come to the market regularly for both the connections and the food.
“When I went away to Chapel Hill for school, I never thought I would come back to Winston-Salem,” Salem said. “But, what I’ve found is that in Winston-Salem there is great support for projects that need to happen. Not everything has already happened here. There’s ground to be broken. That fuels the passion.”
Justice is compassion raised to an institutional level.