Home is Where The Park Is

13 Nov

Check out my post at The Fregetarian Times, and follow me as I cover the news on the Western Wake Farmers’ Market’s quest for a new home.

A local market’s quest for a permanent home

About 12 miles away from downtown Raleigh, the Western Wake Farmers’ Market sits nestled in a suburban neighborhood, typical of Cary’s family-centric community. Every week, farmers from all over the Triangle area gather in the Carpenter Village subdivision, where the WWFM sets up shop in a vacant lot.

Last Saturday, the latest buzz around the market enticed me to make the 20-minute hike from my downtown Raleigh bubble to west Cary. Rumor had it; the market was looking for a new home and planned to make Cary’s vacant AM Howard Farm Park its new location. With their short-term lease soon to expire in March 2012, they needed a place to go.

But what really piqued my fregetarian interest were rumblings of a park the market hoped to develop, a park totally dedicated to the Triangle’s local food movement. On a mission to learn more, I called Juliann Zoetmulder, WWFM board president and the woman leading this farm park charge.

She gave me the back-story on the buzz:

Market staff and volunteers sought a partnership with the Town of Cary to develop the vacant Howard land into a full-fledged farm park. They envisioned an open-air market, recreational green space, community gardens and a multi-use community center, all dedicated to North Carolina’s agricultural roots.

With the town in the midst of revamping its Parks and Recreation Master Plan, their farm park proposal was perfect timing.

In a recent town council meeting, though, staff denied the market’s request to temporarily move to the vacant park when their lease expires, siting excessive costs and project hurdles needed in order to upfit the undeveloped land.

For now, the WWFM will stay put. And lucky for them, Ferrell Construction and Development, the company that holds the market’s lease, is happy to keep them around as long as the leased land is up for sale.

David Ferrell, the company’s founding partner, is an avid supporter of the farm park proposal.

“A project like this is a tremendous opportunity to teach our community about agriculture and growing their own food,” he said.

“I think the WWFM’s park idea will come in time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all. Until then, we should stay behind the project and keep on driving it.”

Eager to learn more about what made the WWFM so special, a market that drew 1,200 people last week alone, I grabbed my GPS and hit the road for west Cary.

Saturday Morning At The Market

Cary may be a short distance from downtown Raleigh, but it feels like a whole different world. It’s brand new homes and perfectly manicured lawns are like the agreeable, clean-cut sister to my angsty, downtown home.

As I pulled up to the newly developed Carpenter Village subdivision, I surveyed the long line of white pop-up tents jutting up from a slab of pavement. They offered the only shelter from the harsh fall sun. It was just 9 am, but the cloudless sky already called for a wide-brimmed hat and shades.

The WWFM sits at the entrance of Carpenter Village between Davis Drive and Highway 55. Still early, only a few visitors moved from tent to tent, shopping seasonal vegetables, meat and eggs, handmade cheeses, breads, and other artisan goods.

“This is cool,” I said to Stuart as I grabbed our basket from the truck.

“Can you believe this place is totally run by volunteers,” I asked.

I rattled off a few facts; all of them learned after talking with Juliann the day before.

Excited to share the market’s young history, Juliann filled me in on its beginnings.

“The market was started by a group of Cary moms and a dads who wanted fresh, local produce on their kitchen tables,” she said.

One petition, 2000 signatures, and countless hours of hard work later, the WWFM opened to serve the residents of west Cary in the fall of 2008.

“We started this market to ensure the vitality of our community, and Cary has really embraced it. We’re thrilled with how quickly it’s grown. We want to continue that momentum and create a park where people can connect with their natural environment, grow their own food or learn about North Carolina agriculture. This park could give that to Cary residents, and could position the town as an innovator in our state’s local foods movement. That’s really exciting,” she said.

Now, in its third year, the WWFM’s 40 some-odd vendors generated roughly $1,000,000 in sales each year. There was no doubt that this market was a success, and that the people running it had every intention to keep it that way.

As I entered the market, I felt for my wallet, ready to dole out my grocery budget on the season’s best. But first, I needed a cup of coffee. We followed the sweet, acidic aroma of freshly ground beans to Muddy Dog Roasting Company, a local roaster nationally hailed by Fortune Magazine/CNN as a top coffee roaster in the US.

Jim Pellegrini and his daughter Emily, greeted us with warm smiles, despite the morning’s chill. It was the first cold morning this fall. We ordered two cups of coffee as Jim, owner and operator of Muddy Dog, offered his thoughts on what made the market such a success.

“We vend at CSA’s and markets all over the Triangle, but this one is my favorite,” he said.

When asked why, he swiftly responded.

“It’s the passion of the management that sets this market apart,” said Pellegrini.

“The management here is committed to a high quality, consumer-focused market, and they put a lot of thought into what they’re customer base really wants–a good location, variety, convenience and reliability,” he said.

“We were out here during the hurricane, and believe it or not, people still came.”

Jim politely interrupted our conversation to tend to customers seeking the warmth of his acclaimed coffee. I couldn’t blame them, this stuff was darn good.

We said thanks and made our way to La Farm Bakery for a hearty market breakfast. It was impossible to choose from the mounds of freshly baked cinnamon rolls, baggetts, scones, muffins, granola, cookies and savory breads. We shelled out a whole $1.50 for two crusty French rolls, a perfect pair of the fresh brie from the tent next door– Hillsborough Cheese Company.

Come noon, our basket was stuffed with bok choy and fennel from Ben’s Produce, turnips and greens from Coon Rock Farm and leftover scraps of the our market breakfast, too delicious to toss. We headed for the truck, ready for home, dreaming of the farm fresh dinner I would prepare that night.

On the way back to Raleigh, we stopped to admire the vacant Howard land. Just a quarter mile from the market’s current digs, we pulled up to the unmarked, vacant lot at the corner of Morrisville Carpenter and Louis Stevens Roads. It was peaceful and scenic, despite the traffic that whizzed by. An old farmhouse and three boarded-up barns rested patiently on a wide plot of maple-lined acreage.

What’s Next

After speaking with Juliann, she pointed me to Michelle McKinley, another market volunteer who once wrote their newsletter. It was easy to see that WWFM supporters were dedicated and weren’t giving up on their quest for a long-term home. They continue to push for a permanent pavilion and garner support for their dream park until the Town of Cary finalizes their parks and rec master plan next spring.

“This will take time,” Michelle told me.

“Juliann, market staff and volunteers are willing to do what it takes to make this park a reality,” she said.

At the end of my chat with Juliann, she offered me a few final thoughts on the market’s next steps.

“Our plan is to push until we’re included in the town’s master plan, and I hope we’re in it,” she said.

“That’s when we know they’re listening.”

As a Raleigh-ite, I hope she she’s right. I can see my future kids barreling out of my mom van, eager to play in the dirt at the Farm Park. Me, basket in-hand, I’ll shop for our family dinner. The way I see it, this is the kind of thing that makes a community worth calling home.

Over the next few months, I’ll follow the WWFM’s journey as they seek a permanent place to call their own. I don’t mind the drive to suburbia for the farm fresh goods and a piping hot coffee. Hopefully one day, I’ll spread out a blanket for a picnic breakfast and sink my toes into the grassy farmland the WWFM calls home. Until then, I’ve got three pounds of Cook Rock greens to keep me happy.

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One Response to “Home is Where The Park Is”

  1. Jennifer November 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    Your pictures are beautiful and description of the Western Wake Farmers’ Market just wonderful. It made me want to jump in the car and head over there for the experience. Thanks and keep blogging! Jennifer

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