The Main Street Farmers Market concluded its 2019 in-person market season with the largest Shopping by Lantern Light event yet in number of vendors. But the online Statesboro Main Street Market2Go remains available year-round.
Held the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, the Lantern Light market always offers potential gifts – such as blankets and clothing accessories, novelty decorative items and other handicrafts – not found at a typical Saturday morning market. But this year’s Shopping by Lantern Light also featured fresh, seasonally apropos produce, including satsumas and other citrus fruit grown in Bulloch County, persimmons from Tattnall County and chestnuts from Screven County.
Franklins Citrus Farms’ owners first planted satsuma trees in Bulloch County nine years ago, and are now in their fifth year producing a marketable quantity, having added several other varieties of citrus fruit. Working their booth at Lantern Light, business partners Joe Franklin and Bill Renz had sold all of the bags they brought with them of plump, nearly orange-size satsumas, but still had a few bags of easy-peeling, seedless little mandarins called Georgia Sweet Kisses as the second hour drew to a close.
“This is our fifth year in production, selling fruit, and it has increased every year for the last five years,” Franklin said.
Renz said they had an “explosive” rise in fruit output this year over last. When asked to put that in percentage terms, he said 150%. As the trees have matured and the growers have continued to learn, they managed to hold onto their yield despite very hot days in the spring and the fall, he said.
Besides its best-known satsumas and the “Kisses,” Franklin Farms is now also producing Tangos, Gold Nuggets and Sugar Belles, which are all mandarin- or tangerine-type citrus fruits, and even some grapefruit and Meyer lemons.
These growers pulled off a marketing coup their first year out when they secured not a location- or family-specific name but www.georgiacitrus.com as Franklin Farms’ exclusive domain name.
“We sell locally, and we also do mail order … and we ship all over the United States,” Renz said.
With the current crop expected to last until January, they also operate a stand on U.S. Highway 301, across from the Georgia State Patrol post south of Statesboro.
Another area fruit label, Sweet Georgia Fuyu Persimmons, had a table nearby on Lantern Light night.
Laura Potts-Wirht and her husband, Tom Wirht, planted 18 acres of the Fuyu variety of Asian persimmon trees at their farm on U.S. 301 south of Glennville in Tattnall County. This is also their fifth year selling persimmons, and their operation was featured in the Oct. 5 edition of the “Georgia Farm Monitor” television show.
“It’s nice with fruit trees because they slowly come on and it gives you a chance to build up your market, develop your customers,” Potts-Wirht told the Statesboro Herald.
She had sold all of the fresh persimmons she brought to Shopping by Lantern Light before the final half hour but was still peddling her persimmon jams – in fruit butter, ginger and a spicy pepper flavors – decorative dried persimmon slices and little loaves of persimmon bread, which is much like fruit cake. She offered samples of the jams.
The sweet persimmon stand was a regular at Statesboro’s Main Street Market most Saturdays in October and November. Potts-Wirht and helpers also sell the fruit at the Forsyth Farmers Market in Savannah and wholesale to restaurants and small grocery stores.
They had one weekend of sales at the farm this year, but haven’t made it a you-pick operation and so far don’t sell online. Most of the fruit is usually gone by the end of November anyway.
“So one of the reasons we’re at the farmers’ market is to let people try the fruit, answer their questions, just more educate people about the fruit through the farmers’ markets,” said Potts-Wirht.
Donna McKenna is known to repeat customers of the Main Street Farmers Market by her cottage-industry moniker, The Herb Lady. Indeed, she still had some herbs such as sage and thyme for sale. But the special, holiday-oriented thing she did for Shopping by Lantern Light was roasting chestnuts in a big, iron skillet.
She and her husband, John McKenna, have a farm at Newington in Screven County with 500 chestnut trees.
“This is first year I’ve really had a big enough harvest to do anything with. So I’ve made chestnut puree cakes and I’m roasting chestnuts,” she said.
With pureed chestnuts used as a substitute for flour, her cupcakes are gluten-free.
McKenna also roasted some chestnuts at last year’s Lantern Light event, but this fall, she had enough to sell at Saturday markets and has also sold a lot of chestnuts online, she said.
Lot of vendors
In all, 64 vendors took part in the Lantern Light market, said Relinda Walker, the Main Street Farmers Market manager. She didn’t have a count, but made a guess that 2,000 to 2,500 people attended, by comparing the crowd to a well-attended Saturday morning market, where there have been counts of more than 1,000 shoppers.
Now, the outdoor markets are done until April 4, but the online market is available at https://statesboromarket2go.locallygrown.net. Currently, the Market2Go sends regular emails to about 800 people, and typically 40-50 participate in a given week, said coordinator Michele Giddens.
Shoppers place orders between 8 p.m. Friday and Tuesday midnight for pickup Thursday evening. The pickup sites at the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, 4:30-6:30 p.m., and in Sylvania at the Victory Garden General Store, 5:15-5:45 p.m.
The seasonal market and the online market both operate under the oversight of the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority.