Food & Drink

At farmers markets, shoppers pick freshness over price

Donna Lynn Eads and her corgi, Fergie, are regular visitors at the market. Eads loves her watermelon.
Donna Lynn Eads and her corgi, Fergie, are regular visitors at the market. Eads loves her watermelon.

Lugging a watermelon four blocks is part of Jimmy Lail's Saturday morning ritual in the summer.

Each week, Lail and his girlfriend, Donna Lynn Eads, walk from where they live on Esplanade to the Lexington Farmers Market at Cheapside with their corgi, Fergie. Last summer, Eads ate 75 watermelons, and "I packed 78 watermelons from here to the Esplanade," Lail said as he adjusted one watermelon "the size of two" in a knapsack on his back.

Lail and Eads were among the hundreds of shoppers on a recent Saturday morning at the Lexington Farmers Market in Cheapside Park. The block where the old Fayette County Courthouse stands is now filled on Saturdays with 74 vendors: 56 farmers, 14 manufacturers and four concession stands.

July is a peak time for the vendors — and for shoppers, who load up on fresh tomatoes, corn, green beans, eggplant, peaches and potatoes.

Karla Hiser and her mother, Carolyn McDonald, usually make a quick loop through the market to check prices before making purchases. But if there's a particular vendor they like, "it doesn't matter if it costs more," Hiser said.

Brian Jones and his wife, Monica, their 14-month-old son Donovan, and Monica's mother, Monica Johnson, visited the new location for the first time earlier this month.

They planned their family outing early as "a great start to the weekend," Johnson said. "I can't wait to get to the fruit."

Prices of locally grown produce can be 15 to 50 cents higher than at the supermarket, but supporting local farmers is important to many of the shoppers.

Necee Anderson said she wanted fresh food, and price didn't matter when she could get items that were so much fresher than what's available in the retail market.

"I cook every day," said Anderson, a mother of seven and grandmother of seven.

Sue Walters agreed. "The food is fresher and quality is better," she said.

Walters prefers the market's new location to the former spot along Vine Street. "It's more compact," she said.

The market, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to get a start. Linda Barnes and her mother, Nancy Talbott, sell Nancy's Fancy Cheddar Snaps.

"We wouldn't be here if not for the market. Being here has helped get us into stores," Barnes said. It didn't take farmers market shoppers long to become addicted to the cheese wafers and begin to ask retail stores to carry the product.

Abigail Keam, who has been a vendor at the market for 11 years, said her business has tripled at the Cheapside market site. Her honey booth is under the Fifth Third Bank Pavilion, where spots are based on seniority.

"I have to die before someone else gets my spot," she said.

Joyce Smith, who with her late husband, Jeff, was a founding member of the market, said the biggest challenge at the new location is parking. There's some confusion about which lots are free. The nearest free lot is at the Fifth Third Bank on Main Street. Parking at Christ Church and the World Trade Center is $2 for the first hour.

Smith, who is known as "the gourd lady," said she likes the atmosphere under the new pavilion. "It's festive," she said.

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