This time last year, a lot of people became first-time gardeners. The onset of the pandemic resulted in food shortages at grocery stores and exposed our stark reliance on the industrial food system. In response, people planted small gardens, got their hands dirty and learned how to provide fresh food for themselves.
I can’t help but think that this gardening craze was something good that came out of 2020, as folks getting back to the earth is a beautiful thing.
One of Winston-Salem’s homegrown farmers markets has expanded its offerings based on its customers’ increased interest in gardening. Grow Your Own at Cobblestone is a new program just launched at the Cobblestone Farmers Market. The program aims to provide edible plants, gardening resources and sustainable growing methods for customers.
“Last year through the pandemic, it just blew up that folks were wanting to grow their own food and know where it was coming from,” said Ariana Ayuso, Cobblestone Market Manager. “So we really just jumped on it at the beginning of this year and said maybe we need to bring in more vendors.”
Grow Your Own combines resources from existing vendors and visiting vendors to provide a wide variety of edible and ornamental plant options. More than just tomato and pepper transplants, vendors are offering berry bushes, herbs, houseplants, perennials, annuals, succulents, flowering shrubs and more.
“Many of them are existing vendors, and then there are wonderful guest vendors that are coming in for the first time,” said Margaret Norfleet-Neff, Cobblestone co-founder and CEO. “Some guest vendors will come for the whole time, and then some will start and run for six weeks. We try to make it consistent, so customers don’t have to guess. And we encourage everybody to sign up for the newsletter because it’ll have the weekly list of who’s in Grow Your Own and to pre-order.”
Exploring Cobblestone Farmers Market can happen in person and virtually. The weekly newsletters changes, depending on what vendors are offering seasonally. The newsletters give customers a chance to peruse the weekly products available, see what plants will be available for Grow Your Own, and pre-order from most all the vendors. There are also great growing, watering and cultivation tips in the newsletters, as well.
Like most everything over the last year, 2020 brought significant changes to Cobblestone Farmers Market. The pandemic shut down its three host locations, which brought the producer-only market to its current home at 1001 S. Marshall St. in Winston-Salem. Cobblestone is spread out at this address in multiple parking lots, spanning both sides of the street.
The Grow Your Own vendors are on the west side to create a shopping experience for those who want to source plants for their home gardens. Norfleet-Neff pointed to the west parking lot as she explained.
“On April 3rd (full season) opening day, this will be Grow Your Own on this side, so that people can really go to kind-of a garden center,” said Norfleet-Neff.
There is much more to gardening than just planting and walking away — which is why Grow Your Own is focused on getting all the available resources to customers. From locally-produced compost to soil sampling, the goal is to set new gardeners up for success.
“We’d like to have it be a bit more 360 with getting plants in the spring and having more information about seed saving,” said Salem Neff, Cobblestone co-founder and adviser. “We’ll probably take a break in the summer, but the idea is to also have (Grow Your Own) in the fall. Something that people are interested in, is to also have some education pieces around seed saving and bring that into the market.”
The more we source our food locally, the more we learn what we like. If a person consistently buys ‘Black Krim’ heirloom tomatoes from the market, it’s probably true she would want to try her hand planting a seedling of the same variety. Grow Your Own connects the taste buds to the plant, the fruit and the grower. Full circle.
“The 360 component really has to do with the sustainable production,” Norfleet-Neff said. “So folks are getting starts in really good soil, they’re getting heirloom seed. We want to create both an ecosystem and a really deep resource for getting stuff during this time.”
“Autonomy is a big word we use a lot of the time — people doing things on their own. People have more fun, they feel free and excited, they’ve been spending more time at home, kids are learning more. It’s coming back to being more of that regular part of life.”
Of course, the grow your own options will vary as the season progresses. Right now, vendors are offering lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, herbs and a variety of other cool weather spring vegetables. As the weather warms, there will be a wide selection of summer crops, shrubs and tropicalS.
“Every week it’s gonna grow,” Neff said. “We’re probably going to have about 50 different types of heirloom tomatoes later in April.”
Keep in mind that Cobblestone Farmers Market accepts SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), WIC FMNP (Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), and SFMNP (Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program) benefits. In addition to fresh produce, market patrons can use SNAP benefits for plants and seeds.
Amy Dixon is an assistant horticulturist at Reynolda Gardens of Wake Forest University. Gardening questions or story ideas can be sent to her at www.facebook.com/WSJAmyDixon or firstname.lastname@example.org, with “gardening” in the subject line. Or write to Amy Dixon in care of Features, Winston-Salem Journal, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101.