The Liberty Street Farmers Market at 1551 N. Liberty St., just off U.S. 52, will have its grand opening from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday.
It’s actually the second grand opening for this market. The first one, Oct. 11, 2014, was attended by the late city councilman Vivian Burke and other officials shortly after the market was built, and hopes were high that the market would help revive that area of town.
The space did operate a farmers market for a short while in 2015, and it has played host to a handful of events since then.
But for the most part, the space has been empty. That vacancy has been a sore spot for some. The market sits on city-owned land originally designated for a project by the Liberty Street CDC. That project was never realized. The city spent about $35,000 designing the market and almost $307,000 building it.
The new market is being organized by the Urban Food Advisory Council, a volunteer advisory committee tasked by the city with addressing such issues as food deserts.
Council Chairwoman Megan Regan is an economics professor at Wake Forest University who studies food policy and poverty. She also is acting as the market manager for the reopening.
Back in 2014, not much attention was given to food deserts — the phrase wasn’t even in use — and Regan is hoping the market can gain some traction this time around.
A soft opening was held July 12, and now plans are to hold the market every second and fourth Friday of the month into November.
Regan and the council got a grant from N.C. State University to run the market and are getting supporting help from the city, including Tiffany Turner, the city’s food resilience project manager.
The council is trying to get the market off the ground in hopes that someone else will take it over for subsequent seasons.
“Our goal is we see how this experience goes and hope that it administratively moves to a market that’s managed like other small farmers markets, maybe as a nonprofit,” Regan said.
Regan said that the council purposely set up the market to serve the immediate neighborhood.
The market has lined up seven vendors for this Friday to fill a maximum nine vendor spaces, following COVID-19 guidelines.
Vendors grow a variety of fruits and vegetables within a 5-mile radius of the market. One vendor will sell vegan prepared foods, such as salads and sandwiches, made with locally grown produce.
The market’s location itself is in within walking distance to many potential customers. And, with help from the city, will offer EBT/Snap payments.
“We’re targeting small-scale urban farmers and consumers who are experiencing a food desert,” Regan said.
Masks will be required and also provided free to anyone who needs one.
In addition to spacing tables for social distancing, vendors have received training on safety in conducting retail transactions and other details. Hand sanitizer will be available, and the market will have one-way traffic and social-distancing markers.
Regan said that some of the small-scale farmers are more or less backyard gardeners from such neighborhoods as Happy Hill.
One of the larger vendors is Granville District Farms, run by Aaron Salley, Assan Salley, Kwesi Wilson and Sherard Ozaka.
Aaron Salley said he was inspired to start Granville District Farms last year after the death of his father, Hashim Salley. “Wherever we lived when I was growing up, he always had a plot of land and would grow produce,” Aaron Salley said. “Later he bought two acres and used a portion of it to grow produce.”
“He left me the land, and I didn’t really know what do with it, but then I ran into Kwesi, who had just taken this farming class.”
The class was the Urban Farm School offered through the Forsyth County office of the N.C. Extension Service and taught by Mary Jac Brennan.
Brennan later helped the four partners set up their new business.
This week, Salley said, Granville District Farms, will have zucchini, squash, cucumbers, Swiss chard, watermelon and more.
Salley said he has been selling produce in various pop-up locations, but it will be nice to set up in a permanent market space. He hopes some of his customers will be inspired to visit the new market.
Regan hopes that word will spread, and she can keep attracting vendors and customers throughout the summer.
“The vision of the council is to show the viability of what it can be,” Regan said. “It was designed to be a vendors market in a food desert. Let’s see if it works.”
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