It is late June in North Carolina, and the heat and humidity that settled in a week or two ago are here to stay for the season. The air is hot, oppressive, but bearable so long as there is the slightest bit of breeze. I have opted to bring the girls with me to the NC State Farmer’s Market today, one of my very favorite spots to visit in Raleigh, because it is Blueberry Day and besides, the peaches are also starting to come in.
We make the long drive out of Wake Forest, down Capital Boulevard, a largely commercial corridor flanked by lights, strip malls, auto repair shops, and commercial buildings, and wait for the road to narrow some as we enter the City of Raleigh. Raleigh is a small but growing town, much more lively today than it was when we first moved here sixteen years ago, with a pleasant mix of historic buildings and new construction. It’s not a big city, and we are through the downtown almost as quickly as we enter it. I like that it’s small and I don’t need directions to get around here. I never worry about getting lost. Once on the other side of the city, I navigate to the right, just past the Beltline overpass, and then soon, a left onto Lake Wheeler Road. After crossing some train tracks and the headquarters of a local roofing company, the Farmer’s Market emerges on the right, hard to miss with its huge digital sign out front.
I turn, then turn again into the large parking lot adjacent to the Farmer’s Building, the huge open-air market where most of the foot traffic resides. There are other buildings here, too – the Market Shoppes, which houses vendors selling produce, homemade breads, jams, cheeses and NC-themed gifts, the Seafood Restaurant where we often get fried shrimp or clam plates in styrofoam containers to be eaten outside under the tent, a Trucker’s Building and Wholesale Terminal for commercial business, and Market Imports which sells architectural and garden items, furniture, ironwork and other interesting items from around the world. But my favorite is definitely the Farmer’s Building. The girls and I make our way to the edge of the building.
It’s sides are completely open, it’s floor is concrete, a roof overhead provides shade for customers and farmers – it’s nothing fancy. We enter through one of the aisles that run between the farmer’s booths which are really nothing more than covered tables filled with produce or plants, with the tables often arranged in u-shapes where the bottom of the u faces toward the inside. The booths run down both sides of the long structure. Almost immediately upon entering, the heat and scent of fresh vegetables mingles together creating a pungent aroma that pleasantly envelopes us, and it all reminds me of my grandmother’s house and of my parent’s house, neither of which had air-conditioning, of the garden my parents kept and long afternoons on the back porch snapping beans or shucking corn, followed by time in the kitchen watching my mother put up produce for the winter.
We pass farmers standing on the back of pickup trucks loaded with corn and stop at a few booths where the girls hunt for toothpicks and stab at tupperware containers filled with samples of fresh peaches. We dodge hoardes of shoppers who are making their way slowly through the center aisle of the market, stopping erratically at different stands, perusing the offerings, asking questions about the food. Good natured farmers compete with their neighbors, calling out to passerby to stop and take a look. There is so much produce in every direction – tomatoes, zucchini, onions, beans – all freshly picked, spilling from the bins, warming in the hot air. I don’t buy anything immediately. I don’t want to carry it around for too long and I’ve learned to taste test at several spots. Not all blueberries are the same. Not all peaches have the same taste. Besides, we are in search of the day’s event and, turning back in the direction from which we came, we find signs directing us to the other end of the building, eventually hitting the halfway point where the produce stands give way to the garden suppliers – the same set-up as the produce, only garden flowers and herbs are for sale.
I tell the girls not to let me buy anything, and when I spot some caladium that looks nice, and some lavender, they dutifully tug me in the other direction. Finally we head to the left, to a building across a smaller parking lot. There is a commercial kitchen with a counter and people are handing out fresh, warm blueberry cobbler and ice cream. We take our samples and eat – it is delicious – then after determining that there is nothing more to see there, head back to the Farmer’s Building. I find a booth with a wide array of tomatoes laid out for sale, perusing them for over-ripeness and bruising, scold my youngest for touching everything, before buying two for $1.99/pound. Though a few vendors accept credit, most things here are cash only.
Then we make our way to the end of the building where there are specialty vendors selling homemade bread, flower arrangements, and baked goods. We try a few samples of a cheddar pepperoni bread and I buy some at my oldest daughter’s urging. At $7.95, I think the price is steep but I love bread. I resolve to purchase a bread machine one of these days. We head back into the market, and I finally settle on some peaches from the Sandhills – central southern North Carolina where the sandy soil is ideal for growing them – and some blueberries from a woman who had offered us samples earlier. The peaches are cling and they have a rich, strong flavor. Freestone won’t be in for another month or so, when they will have Peach Day in late July. I’ll be here for that, too.
Now loaded down with three plastic bags, we head over to the Market Shoppes for some fresh squeezed lemonade, check out some of the trinkets for sale there, and then decide to head on home. We make our way back to the Farmer’s Building, crossing through a flower vendor’s displays, and the girls once again tug me away, keeping me from spending money on more flowers that I definitely could always use. And we are off, back through the city, until another day.
Categories: Places to See in NC