New York has one. Dallas has one. Seattle has one. And well ahead of cities nationwide, Statesboro has one.
We're talking about farmers markets - the tasty centerpiece in the growing farm-to-table movement. When the Mainstreet Farmers Market opens for its fourth year on Saturday from 9 to 12:30 downtown in the Sea Island Bank parking lot, it will mark the biggest year yet for lovers of fresh, locally grown food, including conventionally grown and organic products. More than 40 vendors are expected to offer their wares.
"I love to see the looks on people's faces when they see the incredible bounty of fresh local food at our Mainstreet Farmers Market," said Debra Chester, one of the Market's founders. "Call it farm-to-table, call it hungry for authentic, old-fashioned goodness. It's what people want today."
Expecting a winter's worth of hungry demand, farmers plan a good harvest of early season produce, including carrots, greens, beets, onions, strawberries, herbs, tomatoes and garden plants. There also will be local dairy, meats, eggs, honey and jams, baked goods and crafts. Market vendors accept EBT, Visa and MasterCard.
How did Statesboro develop such a crop of "locavores," as fans of locally grown food are called?
"The fact that we live in a farming community probably plays a part," Chester said. "We're personally in touch with reasons the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports for the tripling in farmer markets in the last 15 years.
Topping the list is the search for "quality characteristics- freshness, flavor, ripeness-that may have enhanced nutrient content" and to learn about farming practices and have trust in their food suppliers-amidst a backdrop of food safety concerns."
That's not news to an agricultural community where residents know that a tomato picked green and ripened during a 100-mile truck ride can't compare to the fresh one taken from the hands of the person who grows it.
Research by the National Grocers Association also confirms that we're starved for local foods. Their 2010 study found 83 percent of people rate the availability of local foods as very or somewhat important - the highest rating ever. Even the National Restaurant Association named locally sourced foods a Hot Trend for 2011. For gourmet home chefs or down-home family cooks, the Market puts the ingredients just minutes away.
Saturday's opening day promises to be family-friendly celebration of the fresh season and also is Ogeechee Tech Day. OTC President Dawn Cartee and her husband Jamey will be the Honorary Market Managers. An OTC Culinary Arts chef and some students will prepare and offer samples of recipes using fresh market ingredients. Medical Assisting students will do free blood pressure and blood sugar checks. Other educational programs from Georgia Southern and live music will add to the atmosphere.
This year the Market has also extended its outreach to food-conscious Statesboro residents with an online ordering option. At http://statesboromarket2go.locallygrown.net, shoppers can place orders each Sunday beginning at 3 p.m. until Tuesday, 11 p.m., and pick up orders at Sugar Magnolia Bakery on Thursday between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.