Fresh finds: Farmers markets set to sell locally grown food

Photo by sadaf

Photo by sadaf

SUWANEE -- Sharon and Frank Ferrer will spend their evening picking romaine and red leaf lettuce in their garden.

The picking will be a regular Friday night activity for the husband-and-wife duo, who own five acres of land off Westbrook Road in Suwanee -- Okie Dokie Farm -- where they grow a host of certified organic crops, including green beans, radishes, corn, mustard greens, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, squash, bay leaves, lemon balm and their main cash crop, blueberries.

Tonight's picking precedes the opening day of Suwanee's annual farmers' market, which will be held every Saturday through Oct. 12, with the addition this year of a weekday market Tuesday evenings.

The Ferrers will be selling lettuce, bay leaves and a few types of live plants -- primarily hostas and Japanese maples -- from the back of their truck at Town Center Park on Saturday.

To get ready for this weekend's market, the Ferrers planned to harvest about 30 heads of lettuce from their garden this evening using plastic knives -- a metal knife, Sharon Ferrer said, would cause the edges to turn brown more quickly.

"I might leave some of the leaves there because then it will keep putting out, the same plant will, but if I can get a whole head that looks nice I will go ahead and cut everything," she said. "I was kind of glad we're having cool mornings all this week because the cool mornings are actually going to turn this lettuce sweeter for this Saturday."

The Ferrers will also pluck leaves from the Bay Laurel tree growing behind their house.

The lettuce will be washed and packaged, along with individual handfuls of bay leaves, which Sharon Ferrer said people use to flavor soups and stews.

Saturday morning, the couple plans to wake early at 4:30 to finish any last-minute packaging and load up their truck before heading to Town Center Park. The Suwanee Farmers Market is the first of at least half a dozen markets that will open this summer and continue on into the fall.

This year, Snellville's City Council has hopped on the locally grown bandwagon. The Snellville market, which will open in June, will focus primarily on offering fresh produce, but the market committee is also courting vendors who sell meats, eggs, baked goods and fresh flowers.

Why purchase products from local farmers markets?

"A person can know the farmer they're buying from and they feel like it's safer to eat in today's society," Sharon Ferrer said, "how it's grown, what pesticides are put on it, how it's handled and knowing that it was just picked and they're getting the freshest (food) possible for themselves and their family."

To meet the increasing demand for locally grown foods, Pilar Quintero, co-owner of Rancho Alegre Farms, which hosts the Dacula Farmers Market, has worked to start an online market, Gwinnett Locally Grown, an extension of the online market for the Athens area. Growers will be able to list their inventory online for customers to peruse. Orders will be filled from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Rancho Alegre Farms

"It's literally an online farmers market where people are buying directly from the grower," Quintero said.

The online market at gwinnett.locallygrown.net is set to open in late May or early June and will coincide with the openings of the Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Snellville and Norcross markets.

"People like farmers markets because if you go to the market they soon find out, even if they don't find what they need, they like the personal contact with people," Sharon Ferrer said. "It's a whole community spirit, that's what Suwanee has found out. It has grown into a fun community activity on Saturday mornings."