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Produce stands bring bountiful choices to Gwinnett plates

Photo: David McGregor. Shelby Moon, 13, weighs out some green beans while working at the Snellville Farmers Market on a recent Saturday morning.

Photo: David McGregor. Shelby Moon, 13, weighs out some green beans while working at the Snellville Farmers Market on a recent Saturday morning.

Eleven-year-old Ryan O'Neill carefully arranges jars of jelly on the table in his booth at the Snellville Farmers Market. The young man proudly explains how, on a hot June morning in Snellville, he ended up selling gourmet wine jelly.

Wanting to earn his own money at the age of 10, Ryan said, "Well, I wanted to mow lawns at first, and my mom said, 'No, that was too dangerous.'"

After much thought, he and mom Tiffany Wong came up with the idea to make gourmet jellies, and the fledgling company "Saucy Spirits" was born. Ryan details his business plan as confidently as any 30-year-old entrepreneur.

"I want to be in stores next," he said, "but I have a few things to do first."

Ryan needs to buy a few pieces of office equipment and obtain the proper license to sell his jellies in retail stores.

But for now he is one of many vendors at the Snellville Farmers Market, and at other farmers markets across the county, who has an interesting story to tell. Neil Singley sells fresh vegetables and live plants from his booth at the Snellville market. He and his family have owned a farm on Five Forks Trickum Road since he was a boy.

"My wife plowed a mule (on the land) where the Brookwood High School ball field is now," Singley said. "My dad gave me one acre to build a house on, and later I traded him a cow and a calf for another acre and a half."

Laughing, Singley said he wasn't sure who got the better end of that deal, because the cow he traded produced about five gallons of milk a day.

Terrance Jarvis offers up samples of delicious Greek yogurts on a hot afternoon at Norcross' Whistle Stop Farmers Market. The berries and milk used to make Atlanta Fresh Artisan Creamery's yogurt come from within 35 miles of Norcross. The cows are grass fed because, according to Jarvis, "Happy cows produce the best milk." In fact, the yogurt is actually made in Norcross, near Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Peachtree Industrial Boulevard across from JR's Barbecue. Business is good.

At that same market, Gwen Washington proudly displays fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits grown right here in Gwinnett County at Phoenix Gardens. Phoenix gardeners use no pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetically treated seeds on their farm. Customers seek out Gwen's booth in Norcross and at Lawrenceville's farmers market, eager to buy whatever is in season.

Whether you're looking for fruits and vegetables, honey from local beekeepers, artisan breads, fresh-made cakes or even handmade crafts and fresh meats, Gwinnett's farmers markets offer an impressive selection to shoppers.

The beauty of local markets like Snellville's, Norcross' and other cities in Gwinnett, is the flavor -- of both the people and the wares. There has been a surge in popularity of farmers markets in Gwinnett and beyond for several reasons. The "green" movement encourages buying locally grown fruits and vegetables, and local buyers support local growers. Sustainable gardening is a movement that has taken hold for earth-friendly practical reasons, and pesticide-free gardening has become more popular for its health benefits. Community Supported Agriculture is no longer simply a trend; it just makes sense.

"There's something very satisfying about planting a seed in the warm earth, watching a plant grow and spread, then harvesting the fruits of that little seed," said Earl Hampton, a customer perusing the booths at the market in Norcross. "I don't have the space to do that any more, but I can come here and buy from people who do."

The 78-year-old Duluth resident visits as many local farmers markets as he can in the summer months. "There's nothing like the smell of fresh vegetables, fresh bread and fresh herbs," Hampton said.

He's right; no matter which Gwinnett farmers market you go to, the sights and smells are delightful. In fact, Norcross' market now features live music and play attractions for children. Snellville's has a craft village the first Saturday of every month.

Each of these markets works and succeeds because of a team of dedicated volunteers who coordinate logistics and check out the farms, bakers and other vendors. They work with their municipalities to secure space, time, parking and all the other requirements that make the market shopping experience a good one.

Gretchen Schulz has chaired Snellville's Farmers Market committee since its inception last year. In its very first year, 2010, that market was voted No. 2 in the state. "We're going for No. 1 this year," said Schulz, who is proud of the young market's success.

Keep in mind that what a market may offer one month may not be available the next month, as the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables depends on what is in season. Late July to mid-September typically offers the best variety and selection of fresh vegetables.